Balanitis (inflammation of the penis)

Balanitis is inflammation of the head of the penis and often the foreskin. It is a common, non-serious condition which can usually be prevented with good hygiene.

Balanitis, or balanoposthitis, is inflammation and/or infection of the head of the penis (glans). The foreskin (or prepuce, the retractable fold of skin that covers the glans) is also often affected. Balanitis occurs more commonly in men who haven’t been circumcised and can be the result of poor hygiene.

Balanitis usually clears up with good hygiene or a course of appropriate medication. However, recurrent balanitis is where the condition regularly recurs despite these actions. In these cases circumcision may be recommended to prevent the condition recurring.

A more extreme form of the condition, balanitis xerotica obliterans, is a condition that causes phimosis (a tight foreskin which can’t be fully pulled back). In some cases this condition also causes the head of the penis (glans) to become inflamed and, sometimes, scarred. Again, circumcision may be recommended to treat this condition.

Balanitis has a number of possible causes including skin irritation (caused by soaps and gels or urine), infection with candida (thrush), bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and certain skin conditions (such as psoriasis or eczema).

The symptoms of balanitis can include swelling, redness, soreness and a thick discharge under the foreskin.

The most common symptoms of balanitis include soreness, redness and/or irritation at the end of the penis (the glans). This can be just a small patch of redness on part of the surface of the glans, or the whole glans may become red, swollen and painful. These symptoms may be accompanied by a thick, unpleasant-smelling discharge from under the foreskin.
You may experience pain or discomfort when passing urine, and it may not be possible to pull back the foreskin.

Symptoms include:

  • soreness, redness and/or irritation of the glans or foreskin
  • discharge under the foreskin
  • an unpleasant odour
  • inability to pull back the foreskin
  • itchiness or a rash on the penis
  • pain or discomfort when urinating

Your doctor should be able to diagnose balanitis in the first instance by discussing your symptoms and by examining your penis. It’s only natural that you might feel embarrassed about seeing your doctor, but don't let that stop you seeking help as your symptoms could sometimes be an indication of a more serious underlying condition.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.