Balanitis is swelling (inflammation) of the foreskin and head of the penis.
Balanitis is usually 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
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider may be able to diagnose your balanitis by examination alone. However, you may need skin tests for viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Sometimes, a skin biopsy is needed.
Treatment depends on the cause of the balanitis. For example, balanitis that is caused by bacteria may be treated with antibiotic pills or creams. Balanitis that occurs with skin diseases may respond to steroid creams.
In severe cases, circumcision may be the best option. 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 usually needed.
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
When to Contact a Medical Professional
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 (retract) the foreskin to clean and dry the area under it.
Elder JS. Disorders and anomalies of the scrotal contents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 539.
Ferry FF. Diseases and disorders. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2012. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:section 1.
Jordan GH, Schlossberg SM. Surgery of the penis and urethra. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 9th ed.Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 33.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Scott Miller, MD, Urologist in private practice in Atlanta. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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