Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Balanitis is usually caused by poor hygiene in uncircumcised men. The inflammation can be due to infection, harsh soaps, or failure to properly rinse soap off while bathing. Several other diseases, including reactive arthritis and lichen sclerosis et atrophicus, can lead to balanitis. Men with uncontrolled diabetes are at risk of developing balanitis.
- Redness of foreskin or penis
- Other rashes on the head of the penis
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Painful penis and foreskin
Signs and tests
Your dermatologist or urologist may be able to diagnosis the cause of your balanitis by examination alone. However, additional skin tests for viruses, fungi, or bacteria are often needed. Occasionally, a skin biopsy is required.
Treatment depends on the cause of the balanitis. For example, infectious balanitis may be treated with antibiotic pills or creams. Balanitis occurring with skin diseases may respond to steroid creams. In severe cases, circumcision may be the best option.
Most cases of balanitis can be controlled with medicated creams and good hygiene. Surgery is not usually necessary. Outcomes are nearly always positive.
Chronic inflammation or infection can:
- Scar and narrow the opening of the penis (meatal stricture)
- Make it difficult and painful to retract the foreskin to expose the tip of the penis (a condition called phimosis)
- Make it difficult to reposition the foreskin over the head of the penis (a condition called paraphimosis); swelling can affect the blood supply to the tip of the penis
Calling your health care provider
Notify your health care provider if you are experiencing any signs of balanitis including swelling of the foreskin or pain.
Good hygiene can prevent most cases of balanitis. During bathing, the foreskin should be retracted to adequately clean and dry the area beneath it.
Fort GG, Lieber JJ, Mikolich DJ. Balantis. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2009. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009.
Jordan GH, Schlossberg SM. Surgery of the penis and urethra. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 9th ed.Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 33.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Urology, Department of Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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