Balanitis is a common infection or inflammation of the skin on the head of the penis. It can be uncomfortable, and may be painful, but it’s rarely serious and can be treated with medication and good hygiene.
What is balanitis?
The head of the penis is usually covered by a flap of skin called the foreskin in uncircumcised men. Balanitis can occur in both uncircumcised and circumcised men, but it’s more common if you haven’t been circumcised or if you have a tight foreskin that’s difficult to pull back (this is known as phimosis).
There are three types of balanitis:
The most common type of chronic balanitis, usually affecting middle-aged to elderly men. It can occur on its own or alongside an underlying skin condition.
This is another chronic balanitis condition that can occur in men with reactive arthritis, a type of arthritis caused by an infection. This is also known as Reiter’s syndrome.
Pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis
These are rare forms of balanitis and only affect men over the age of 60.
What causes balanitis?
There are several causes of balanitis, including:
- A yeast (Candida) infection, such as thrush, in the head of the penis or wrinkles of the foreskin
- A sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia
- A bacterial infection, usually from streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria, which can be transmitted from a female partner during sex
- Being overweight
- Diabetes, which affects your blood sugar level, causing an ideal environment for bacteria to grow
- An allergic reaction to medications such as tetracycline and aspirin
- An allergic reaction to some scented soaps, washing power or spermicidal jelly also known as contact dermatitis
- Some types of arthritis, such as Reiter’s syndrome
- Non-cancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema
- Some pre-cancerous conditions such as Bowen’s disease (though this is very rare)
What are the most common balanitis symptoms?
There are several balanitis symptoms, including:
- Red rash on the head of the penis or under the foreskin
- Pain when urinating (known as dysuria) or during sex
- Bleeding around the foreskin
- Itchiness or burning in the same area
- A white or yellow, smelly discharge (known as smegma) from the skin or under the foreskin which may become infected and irritate the penis
How to treat balanitis
The treatment for balanitis depends on what is causing the condition. If the inflammation is due to an allergic reaction – your GP may prescribe hydrocortisone for the swelling.
If your condition is bacterial, your GP may prescribe an antibiotic balanitis treatment such as penicillin or erythromycin.
If you have a yeast infection - you’ll need an antifungal cream or pill. You should abstain from sex during balanitis treatment and your sexual partner may also need to be treated to avoid re-infecting each other.
If you have balanitis you should:
- Wash your penis every day by pulling back the foreskin (if you have one). Use an emollient rather than scented soap or shower gels, as they could make the balanitis worse
- Keep the area clean and dry, especially after urinating
- Avoid washing powders that make it worse
- If you use condoms, choose latex-free or those for sensitive skin
Often balanitis treatment and better hygiene will clear up the infection quickly. However, if the balanitis doesn’t respond, you should contact your GP for referral to one of our Consultant Urologists who may recommend circumcision.
What happens during balanitis treatment?
During balanitis treatment, your Consultant or Nurse will check your penis and ask you a few questions about your symptoms and medical history. They may also take a sample of any discharge from the head of your penis to check for infection.
You may need a blood test to check for diabetes.
If there’s no infection and your balanitis isn’t caused by an allergy or irritant, your Consultant may refer you to a dermatologist who specialises in skin conditions. In some cases, your Consultant may recommend a circumcision which is a surgical day case procedure.
How do I access balanitis treatment at Benenden Hospital?
You can book a consultation with our expert Consultant Urologists by completing our online enquiry form or by contacting our Private Patient team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.
Published on 04 January 2022