Inflammation of the head of the penis and foreskin

  • More common in children
  • Not being circumcised is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

In balanitis, the head of the penis (the glans) and foreskin become itchy, sore, and inflamed. In addition, there may be a discharge, and a rash may develop.

The disorder can be caused by a bacterial infection, a fungal infection such as thrush (see Candidiasis), or an allergic reaction. It may also be due to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as the protozoal infection trichomoniasis. A tighter than normal foreskin (see Phimosis) may increase the risk of infection by preventing effective cleaning of the glans.

Men with diabetes mellitus are more susceptible to the condition because their urine contains high levels of glucose, which can encourage the growth of microorganisms. This leads to infection and inflammation at the opening of the urethra (the tube leading from the bladder to the outside of the body). Excessive use of antibiotics can increase the risk of a fungal infection by temporarily lowering the body’s natural defences against this type of infection. Children are especially vulnerable to balanitis.

The condition may also occur as a result of sensitivity of the penis to certain chemicals, such as those found in some condoms, contraceptive creams, detergents, and washing powders.

What might be done?

If the head of your penis or your foreskin is inflamed, you should consult your doctor. He or she will examine the area and probably take a swab to look for evidence of infection. The doctor will also test your urine to check for glucose.

The treatment of balanitis depends on the cause. For example, if you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed, and, if the infection is due to a tight foreskin, circumcision may be carried out to prevent balanitis from recurring. If the condition is the result of a sexually transmitted infection, your partner should be checked for evidence of infection and treated if necessary to prevent the condition from recurring (see Preventing STIs). If the cause seems to be sensitivity to a chemical, the irritant should be identified, if possible, so that you can avoid it.

The inflamed area should be kept clean, dry, and free of irritants. Most cases clear up once the cause is treated.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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