Tight foreskin (phimosis)

Phimosis is a tight foreskin which can’t be fully pulled back over the head of the penis (glans).

A tight foreskin is a very common condition in men (and boys). Most males are born with the condition which usually resolves itself as they transition through childhood. The inability to fully retract the foreskin can cause problems when good hygiene can’t be maintained, which can lead to infection, redness or discharge. It may also lead to pain or discomfort when urinating or when having sex.

A tight foreskin can sometimes be retracted, but then can’t be returned to its original position. This can cause the head of the penis (glans) to become swollen and painful; this sometimes requires emergency medical treatment to avoid serious complications.

A tight foreskin is usually present from birth, but usually resolves itself before adulthood. It can also be caused by a number of different skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus or lichen sclerosus.

If you can’t retract the foreskin over the glans it may cause soreness, redness and/or irritation at the end of the penis. These symptoms may be accompanied by a thick, unpleasant-smelling discharge from under the foreskin.

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

Your doctor should be able to diagnose a tight foreskin 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.