Balanitis is swelling of the foreskin and head of the penis.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Balanitis is most often caused by poor hygiene in uncircumcised men. Other possible causes include:
- Diseases such as reactive arthritis and lichen sclerosis et atrophicus
- Harsh soaps
- Not rinsing soap off properly while bathing
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Redness of foreskin or penis
- Other rashes on the head of the penis
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Painful penis and foreskin
Signs and tests
Your health care provider may be diagnosed the problem with only an exam. However, you may need skin tests for viruses, fungi, or bacteria. A skin biopsy may also be needed.
Treatment depends on the cause of the balanitis.
- Antibiotic pills or creams are used to treat when balanitis that is caused by bacteria.
- Steroid creams may help balanitis that occurs with skin diseases.
- Anti-fungal creams will be prescribed if it is due to a fungus.
Circumcision may be the best option in severe cases. If you cannot pull back (retract) the foreskin to clean it, you may need to be circumcised.
Most cases of balanitis can be controlled with medicated creams and good hygiene. Surgery is not needed most of the time.
Long-term inflammation or infection can:
- Scar and narrow the opening of the penis (meatal stricture)
- Make it difficult and painful to retract the foreskin to expose the tip of the penis (a condition called phimosis)
- Make it difficult to move the foreskin over the head of the penis (a condition called paraphimosis)
- Affect the blood supply to the tip of the penis
- Increase the risk of penile cancer
Calling your health care provider
Tell your health care provider if you have any signs of balanitis, including swelling of the foreskin or pain.
Good hygiene can prevent most cases of balanitis. When you bathe, pull back the foreskin to clean and dry the area under it.
Elder JS. Anomalies of the penis and urethra. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 538.
Link RE. Cutaneous diseases of the external genitalia. In:Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 15.
Jordan GH. McCammon KA. Surgery of the penis and urethra. In:Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 36.
Scott Miller, MD, Urologist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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