Approximately 3 to 11 percent of men are affected by this common condition of the penis. There are several types of balanitis as well as different methods for treatment; this guide can help you find what to watch for.
What is balanitis?
Balanitis is the inflammation of the head of the penis. (“Balanos” refers to the glans of the penis and “-itis” typically refers to inflammation.) This inflammation can be caused by a fungal infection, bacterial infection or several other causes. This condition is more prevalent in men who still have their foreskin.
Inflammation of both the glans and the foreskin is referred to medically as balanoposthitis, and if you have trouble pulling back your foreskin over the head of the penis, that’s referred to as phimosis.
There are three main types of balanitis: Zoon’s balanitis, which is the most common, circinate balanitis, which relates to reactive arthritis, and pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis, which leads to wart-like growths.
What causes balanitis?
Poor hygiene in people with an uncircumcised penis is the most common cause of balanitis, especially in people who have a tight foreskin that’s difficult to pull back. It’s not the only cause, however, as several forms of skin sensitivities and issues may lead to the inflammation.
Common Balanitis Causes
Yeast infections (leading to candida balanitis)
Skin irritation or allergic reactions, often caused by using soaps, lotions, scents and spermicides
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like herpes
Skin cancers (in rare cases)
Benign skin issues like psoriasis
Complications relating to type 2 diabetes
Side-effects of some medications, such as certain painkillers
Young boys are at a high risk of contracting balanitis, as they are still forming their hygiene habits. Middle-aged men or older tend to be the second most likely group to be affected by this condition, especially those with diabetes as the glucose on their skin creates the ideal conditions for fungal growth.
What are the main symptoms of balanitis?
The most immediately obvious symptom is a balanitis rash, or redness and swelling around the head of your penis, but there are other important symptoms to watch for.
Common Balanitis Symptoms
Irritation or pain on the head of the penis
Redness or red patches
White, lumpy balanitis discharge under the foreskin (smegma)
Shiny, white skin on the glans
Bleeding around foreskin
Trouble pulling back the foreskin
Sores or lesions on the glans (head of the penis)
Foul smell, often due to smegma
Painful urination happens if the swelling puts pressure on your urethra. If this is one of your symptoms, call your doctor right away.
If these symptoms continue to get worse, it can affect your sex life, urination and the general health of your penis. They shouldn’t be ignored.
How is it treated?
Your doctor will know how to treat balanitis based on whether it’s a bacterial or fungal infection. This assessment is typically done via a physical exam and/or lab work.
For bacterial balanitis, medication like an antibiotic pill regimen or antibiotic cream is often prescribed.
For candida balanitis, treatment will often be an antifungal cream (due to the fact that it is a fungal infection similar to thrush).
If you have had an allergic reaction as the root cause, a steroid is often used to lower symptoms.
While it’s not advisable to self-diagnose or self-treat, carefully cleaning the area and avoiding scented lotions or soaps can help avoid the progression of the condition.
For individuals with a foreskin who get a recurrent balanitis infection, sometimes a doctor might recommend a surgical circumcision to help avoid future infections.
Can someone who has been circumcised get balanitis?
Yes, circumcised people can contract balanitis, which affects the head and glans of the penis. It’s important to remember that for populations that may contract balanitis, circumcised men aren’t necessarily exempt! While those with a circumcised penis have a 68% lower prevalence of balanitis, they still may contract certain forms of the condition, like circinate balanitis (a type of reactive arthritis) or balanitis relating to herpes.
If you have been experiencing symptoms like those of balanitis, penis rashes and itching or general pain in your groin area, please contact a doctor. Schedule an appointment with us to get one-on-one care.