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Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis (the ‘glans’), that causes red and itchy skin. Balanitis can clear up with careful washing and drying of the affected area. Medical treatment is occasionally also needed.

Symptoms of balanitis

If you have balanitis, you might notice:

  • redness and swelling
  • itching
  • pain
  • flaking skin
  • perhaps a smell and a discharge
  • a pink or red rash, smooth or scaly, spotty or patchy
  • discharge or oozing
  • problems pulling back the foreskin (phimosis)

What causes balanitis?

The inflammation is due to overgrowth of the microorganisms, particularly yeast, normally found on the glans. If you are uncircumcised, the warm moist environment under the foreskin provides ideal conditions for the growth of yeast. It is not as common in men and boys who have been circumcised.

Balanitis can also be caused by allergies, psoriasis, eczema, scabies, nappy rash, and some medications.

It’s not sexually transmitted. Men can’t get it from their partners.

Balanitis treatment

If you have balanitis, you can usually clear it up by looking after your penis well.

At least once a day, gently wash the glans, including the part under the foreskin, and dry it gently. If you have a foreskin, pull it back. A bath in salty water might help.

You should avoid soap, hot water and vigorous rubbing, which can make the inflammation worse. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend soap-free products.

If the careful washing and drying routine does not work, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the use of over-the-counter mild steroid or antifungal creams.

For babies, nappy rash cream applied to the tip of the penis can help clear up or prevent balanitis.

Balanitis prevention

Keeping the glans clean and dry is the first line of prevention.

You can also help prevent balanitis by:

  • washing the penis soon after sex (if balanitis tends to flare up soon after sex)
  • washing your hands free of chemicals before touching your penis
  • pulling back your foreskin when weeing and drying any urine before replacing the foreskin.

You should see your doctor if you can’t comfortably pull your foreskin back to expose the glans. Don’t use force, especially in toddlers. The foreskin only becomes easy to pull back later in childhood.

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Last reviewed: June 2020

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