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What is balanitis?

Balanitis is a condition that causes the head of the penis to become inflamed and swell, which can be sore and uncomfortable. It can often affect the foreskin too.

Men of any age can develop the condition, although it’s thought to be especially common among boys under the age of four. It mainly affects children or men who have not been circumcised.

There are a number of possible causes for balanitis and in some cases, it can lead to more serious health issues, so it’s important to see a doctor about it.

Whether you’re concerned about yourself or your child, our doctors can discuss the causes and treatment of balanitis discreetly at a time and place to suit you.

What are the symptoms of balanitis?

The main symptom of balanitis is swelling at the head of the penis. This can make it difficult to retract the foreskin, a condition known as phimosis.

Other symptoms can include:

  • a rash
  • an unpleasant, strong-smelling discharge under the foreskin
  • pain when urinating
  • soreness
  • itchiness
  • redness

Not all of these symptoms are exclusive to balanitis, which means your problem could be something else. That’s why it’s so important to discuss your symptoms with a doctor.

This is the best way to rule out anything more serious, get effective treatment and find out how to stop balanitis from happening again.

What causes balanitis?

There are lots of potential reasons for balanitis, including:

  • not washing your penis often enough
  • scrubbing too hard when washing
  • skin irritation caused by your chosen soap or shower gel
  • an allergic reaction to latex contraceptive products
  • a fungal infection
  • a bacterial infection
  • a reaction to antibiotics or other medication you’re taking

Balanitis may also be more likely if you have one of the following conditions:

In some cases, there is no obvious cause and a doctor will diagnose you with nonspecific balanitis.

How is balanitis diagnosed?

Usually, a doctor can diagnose the condition by taking a look at the penis. Our GPs can do this during a secure, online video consultation.

They will also ask some questions about your symptoms and medical history.

Often, treatment will clear up the infection quickly and no further testing is needed.

However, if treatment doesn't work, or if the doctor is unable to diagnose the condition straight away, you may be referred for further investigation. This may include taking a swab from the affected area, which can then be sent to a lab for testing.

In some cases, balanitis can be a sign you have diabetes, so you may be tested for this to rule it out.

If an STI is suspected, you may be referred to a GUM clinic for treatment.

The doctor may also refer you to a skin specialist if they believe you need further investigations.

How is balanitis treated?

With so many possible causes, your balanitis treatment will depend on the diagnosis the doctor provides.

Some causes are easier to deal with than others. If hygiene is the cause, then changing your habits may be enough to stop balanitis returning.

In other cases, our doctors can prescribe the appropriate medication, such as:

Whatever the reason for your balanitis, you can be sure that our doctors will provide discreet, effective treatment if you need it.

If it is a child who has balanitis, there are things you can do to help recovery. This includes keeping the penis clean, changing nappies regularly (if the child is in nappies) and avoiding using certain products. A GP will be able to advise further on treatment for a child with balanitis.

You should not pull back a child’s foreskin to clean the area, as it can cause damage if it is still attached to the penis.

Can balanitis be prevented?

There are things that you can do try to prevent balanitis, which includes:

  • practicing good personal hygiene - including washing the penis every day gently with warm water and if you’re an adult, pull back the foreskin to ensure it’s fully clean and dry. If you wish to use soap choose one that is unfragranced and gentle
  • not using harsh or fragranced soaps
  • using latex-free condoms if you’re allergic
  • avoid using lubricants and emollients unless really needed
  • practice safer sex, to lower your risk of catching an STI

If it’s a child:

  • change their nappy regularly
  • make sure they are clean and dry
  • avoid using certain products that may cause irritation, such as fragranced wet wipes
  • do not pull back a child’s foreskin to clean the area, as it can cause damage if it is still attached to the penis