Every guy has an itchy penis at some point or other, and there can be a number of causes. One of the more cringe-inducing of these is pubic lice, popularly known as crabs. While pubic lice are more annoying than dangerous, proper penis health care includes seeking treatment for this pest.

So what are they?

Although they are similar to head lice, they are not the same thing. Pubic lice are tiny parasitic insects, measuring about 2 millimeters in length when full grown. They're nicknamed "crabs" because their shape is somewhat similar to that of a sea crab. Pubic lice tend to be yellow-grey or red, but they're so small that it's sometimes hard to see them.

What do they do?

Pubic lice do not transmit any diseases (unlike another close relative - body lice), but they can cause the penis and surrounding areas to itch like crazy. Too much scratching can result in inflammation or infection and visible sores.

How does a guy "catch" them?

The vast majority of pubic lice are passed on through sexual contact with another person; pubic lice do not jump from one person to another, so there usually is direct skin-on-skin contact involved... Condoms are generally ineffective in preventing the spread of lice. In some cases, pubic lice may also be picked up from direct skin contact with an object that contains them, such as a bed sheet.

As mentioned above, pubic lice do not transmit any other diseases; however, since they are most frequently obtained through sexual contact, a man who catches pubic lice is advised to have a sexual health evaluation in case any other conditions may have been passed on from the partner who shared the lice. Contrary to popular belief, having pubic lice does not mean a person has poor hygiene practices; even a person with excellent personal hygiene may contract pubic life from close contact with an infected partner.

What are the symptoms?

An excessively itchy penis and/or genital area is the most prominent symptom. A man may also find his penis or groin has an infection or inflammation (usually because of scratching to relieve the itch). Other signs include a black powdery substance on the skin or in the underwear; bluish spots caused by lice bites; and very tiny dots of blood in the area or on underwear. In most cases, it takes from five days to several weeks after infection for any symptoms to show up.

How are pubic lice treated?

A man who suspects he has pubic lice should see a doctor to confirm this and to determine the best course of treatment. A prescription shampoo is usually advised. This should be thoroughly rubbed into the affected area and left for several minutes. After rinsing, the pubic hair will need to be combed in order to spot and remove any eggs (called nits). Sometimes it's a good idea to use vinegar at this stage, as this often helps to free the nits from the hairs to which they are attached. In some cases, more than one application of the shampoo is needed. Some doctors may also determine that an over-the-counter shampoo may be used rather than a prescription version.

In addition, all clothing and bedding will need to be thoroughly washed in hot water. Anything that cannot be washed should be treated with an over-the-counter spray; the doctor can recommend the best kind.

An itchy penis, whatever the cause, is a major annoyance. Using a top quality penis health cream (health professionals recommend Man 1 Man Oil) can provide much-needed relief from many sources of itching. A cream enhanced with a natural emollient like shea butter and the hydrating properties of vitamin E is especially beneficial, while one with vitamin A has the added bonus of helping fight unwanted penis odors.