Balanitis

Balanitis is a skin irritation on the head of the penis that can affect men and boys. It's not usually serious, but you should see your GP if you think you or your son has balanitis.

Symptoms of balanitis

Balanitis affects the head of the penis and the foreskin.  picture of a penis with balanitis

It occurs far more often in men and boys who haven't been circumcised.

Symptoms include:

  • a sore, itchy and smelly penis
  • redness and swelling
  • pus
  • small, eroded, itchy spots/plaques may be present with a white cheese-like matter, which can be rubbed off easily
  • pain when peeing

Some adults may also have a tight foreskin that won't pull back. This is a condition called phimosis.

When to see a doctor

You should see your GP if you think you've got balanitis. This is to get the right treatment. Depending on your clinical history, it is also sensible to make sure that it isn’t a sign of something more serious like a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

You can also get yourself checked out at a sexual health clinic if you are worried because you have recently had unprotected sex, or sex with a new partner.

Diagnosing balanitis

Your GP should be able to tell if you have balanitis by looking at your penis and asking a few questions.

If treatment doesn't start to work within seven days, your GP may suggest some tests. This is to see if there's an infection or something more serious.

If your GP isn't sure what's causing your balanitis, they may refer you to:

  • a skin specialist called a dermatologist
  • a urologist, who treats penis problems
  • a sexual health clinic

Treating balanitis

Most cases of balanitis are easily treated with good hygiene and, if necessary, medication recommended by your GP.

See your GP if the treatment doesn't start to work within seven days. You may need another treatment or be advised to see a specialist.

Circumcision may be advised in rare cases where a child keeps getting balanitis.

Hygiene

If you have balanitis, you should clean your penis daily with lukewarm water and gently dry it.

  • don't use soap, bubble bath, shampoo or any other potential irritant
  • dry gently under the foreskin after peeing
  • try a soap substitute like an emollient, available from a pharmacy

Cleaning a child's penis

  • don't pull back their foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed
  • if the child is still in nappies, change them often
  • don't use baby wipes to clean their penis

Sex and balanitis

You can have sex during treatment if your balanitis is not caused by infection.

If it's caused by an infection, like an STI or thrush, there's a risk of passing this on.

Causes of balanitis

Balanitis can be caused by:

Preventing balanitis

You can reduce your chances of getting balanitis by:

  • keeping your penis clean
  • avoiding harsh soaps and other skin irritants
  • using soap substitutes, such as an emollient
  • practising safe sex to avoid an STI
  • using latex-free condoms if you have a latex allergy

Young boys may not yet be able to clean under their foreskin because it may not fully pull back yet. 

Don't try to pull back a child's foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed, as this can cause damage.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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