What is balanitis?
Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis. If both the head of the penis and the foreskin are inflamed, it is called balanoposthitis.
Balanitis can occur at any age. However, you are more at risk if you:
– Are uncircumcised – Have taken antibiotics for a long time – Have diabetes – Are overweight – Have a medical condition, or take medication that affects your immune system – Have poor hygiene
What causes balanitis?
Balanitis can have several different causes. In young boys or uncircumcised men, this most often occurs because of a buildup of smegma. It is a substance secreted under the foreskin. If the penis is not kept clean, smegma can build up, become infected, and cause irritation. It can also happen if you have phimosis, a condition where your foreskin is too tight, making it difficult to clean.
Balanitis can also be caused by:
– Candida, a fungal infection that causes thrush – A bacterial infection, usually caused by streptococcal bacteria – Sexually transmitted infections – Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis – Sensitivity to soaps or detergents – A allergic reaction to rubber, spermicides, or other substances that come into contact with the skin of your penis – Rough handling, which can make the penis painful and vulnerable to infection – Certain medications, such as penicillin
What are the symptoms of balanitis?
Symptoms of balanitis can include:
– Redness, swelling, pain, or itching of the penis head or foreskin – Pain during urination – A thick, white, lumpy discharge – Penile irritation – A foul odor
What is the treatement?
Balanitis is not a serious problem. However, as there are certain symptoms in common with certain sexually transmitted infections, it is important to consult your doctor or urologist to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment will then depend on the underlying cause.
Either way, you should keep your penis clean and dry by washing it thoroughly with warm water at least once a day. Avoid using soaps that can irritate the skin.
If your balanitis is caused by a fungal infection, it should be treated with an antifungal cream applied daily for at least two weeks. Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal tablet.
If your balanitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your GP will prescribe antibiotic treatment.
If your balanitis is caused by a skin condition, such as psoriasis, or another irritation rather than an infection, your doctor may prescribe a topical corticosteroid. This is a steroid cream or ointment that should be applied to the head of your penis once a day until your symptoms go away. It should not be applied for more than 14 days, as it can cause thinning of the skin.
With all of these treatments, you should see an improvement in your symptoms within 7 days. If this does not happen, consult your doctor again. The latter can carry out other tests, or refer you to a specialist. If your balanitis is caused by an allergy, your doctor may perform a test to identify the cause of the allergic reaction.
Although balanitis is not contagious, some of the underlying causes are, such as sexually transmitted infections, fungal or bacterial infections. If your partner has a yeast infection, such as thrush, it's important that you both get treated to avoid re-infecting each other.
If you have a tight foreskin (phimosis) and often suffer from balanitis, your doctor may recommend a partial circumcision (removal of part of your foreskin) to improve the problem.
Can I have sex if I have balanitis?
If your balanitis is caused by skin irritation rather than infection, then it is possible to have sex alongside treatment, although you may experience penile pain. However, if your balanitis is caused by a fungal infection or a sexually transmitted infection, you should avoid having sex during your treatment, as you may pass the infection on to your partner.
How can you prevent balanitis?
The best way to prevent balanitis is to practice good personal hygiene. To maintain the cleanliness of your penis, you must:
– Wash your penis thoroughly, at least once a day, gently and thoroughly, making sure to pull the foreskin back. – Avoid using soaps that can cause skin irritation. – Make sure the head of your penis is completely dry before putting your foreskin back in place. – Make sure the tip of your penis is dry and free of urine after using the toilet. – If you develop balanitis after sex, be sure to wash your penis after sex.
You can also lower your chances of developing balanitis if you avoid irritants. This can include soaps and detergents, latex condoms, lubricants and creams.