What is balanitis? 

— Balanitis is the medical term for when the head of the penis (in a man) or the clitoris (in a woman) is swollen, sore, or inflamed. This condition most often affects men and boys, so this article will focus only on them.

What are the symptoms of balanitis? 

— The symptoms often get worse over 3 to 7 days and can include:

●Pain, tenderness, or itching on the head of the penis (also called the “glans”)

●Red sores on the head of the penis or the skin around the head of the penis (also called the foreskin or “prepuce”)

●Thick, bad-smelling pus on the head of the penis

If these symptoms are not treated in a man or boy who is not circumcised, the penis can swell and the foreskin can get stuck to the head of the penis or just below the head of the penis. The foreskin can also form scars.

In some cases, balanitis can make it hard to urinate.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? 

— Yes. If you have the symptoms described above, see your doctor or nurse right away. Go to the emergency room if you are not circumcised and your foreskin is stuck just below the head of your penis and won’t move. This could cause permanent damage.

Will I need tests? 

— Probably. Your doctor or nurse will need to find out what might be causing your balanitis. To do that, he or she will probably:

●Take samples of the fluid from your penis to check for infection

●Order blood tests to check for diabetes or infection

How is balanitis treated? 

— Treatment varies depending on the cause of the balanitis:

●If your balanitis is caused by a yeast infection, you will be treated with medicines called “antifungals.” These medicines come as a cream or gel that you put on your penis, or as pills you take by mouth. Yeast infections most often affect men with diabetes.

●If your balanitis happened because you did not clean your penis well, you will have to rinse your penis twice a day. After your symptoms get better, you will need to begin cleaning yourself better with mild soap and water every day. (But don’t use soap while you still have symptoms. Soap can make symptoms worse.)

●If your balanitis is caused by infection with bacteria you will be treated with antibiotic pills. Infections that can cause balanitis include infections you can catch during sex.

●If your balanitis is caused by an allergy or skin reaction to soaps, medicines, or chemicals, you will be treated with steroid creams or ointments. These steroids reduce inflammation and help the skin heal.

●In rare cases, balanitis is a symptom of cancer or a sign that cancer might soon develop. If your balanitis is related to cancer, you will get treated with surgery or cancer medicines.

Treatment of balanitis in boys is very similar to treatment in men. But boys sometimes need special treatments to help them urinate. Boys also sometimes get antibiotic creams or ointments to put on the penis.

Can balanitis be prevented? 

— Yes. You can reduce your chances of getting balanitis by keeping your penis clean. This is especially important if you are not circumcised. After your symptoms are cured, wash your penis every day with soap and water. If you are not circumcised, be sure to pull back the foreskin to clean under it. Then dry the skin there before you put the foreskin back.

Keeping your penis clean is important, but it is also possible to go too far. Clean the area gently, with water that is not too hot. Use mild soap, but be careful not to scrub the area too roughly.

Dr. Carlo Oller
Board Certified Emergency Physician

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