Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Penis irritation

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Penis irritation refers to itchiness, redness, swelling, pain and other symptoms on or around your penis.
  • Many different conditions such as fungal infection, psoriasis, or certain sexually transmitted infections, can cause penis irritation.
  • Penis irritation can also come from contact with household chemicals like soap, or latex in condoms.
  • Treatment for penis irritation includes washing the foreskin and head properly with warm water, and may include applying medicated creams or ointments.
  • While penis irritation may be a result of a simple condition that will pass with topical treatment, it may be a complication of another disease like diabetes, sexually transmitted infections or penile cancer.

What is penis irritation?

Penis irritation may refer to itchiness (pruritus), redness, swelling (inflammation), tingling, pain, soreness, discomfort or other symptoms in, on or around the skin of your penis. Penis irritation may occur on the glans (head) of the penis, the foreskin, or elsewhere. Boys experience penis irritation as well as men.

Penis irritation can be caused by a range of medical conditions, such as a fungal infection, dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, or certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Irritation can also occur after certain activities like sexual intercourse.

Identifying the cause of discomfort is the first step towards finding the right treatment.

What are the signs of penis irritation?

Depending on the cause, signs of penis irritation may include:

  • Redness, itching, discomfort, flaking of skin, swelling or soreness on the head of the penis
  • Redness or swelling on the foreskin
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Pain when urinating (for example, with phimosis, a condition where your foreskin is too tight)

What causes penis irritation?

Penis irritation can be due to either medical or non-medical causes. Your doctor can help you to work out the exact cause, and suggest an appropriate treatment.


Balanitis is a term to describe inflammation of the head of the penis. It’s a very common cause of penis irritation and can affect males at any age. Balanitis can be caused by bacterial or fungal infections, chemicals, viruses or allergies. It can also occur when the inside of your foreskin isn’t kept clean. If you’ve been diagnosed with balanitis before but it keeps coming back, ask your doctor to test for any underlying conditions that may be causing it, such as diabetes.

Yeast infection (candidiasis)

The area under the foreskin of the penis is warm and moist, which provides conditions that help organisms grow. Candida albicans is a common fungus that is normally present under the foreskin — but too much of it can cause penis irritation. Yeast infections like candidiasis tend to occur more frequently in males who have a foreskin (those who haven’t been circumcised).

Non-infectious skin conditions

Penis irritation can sometimes be due to psoriasis, a condition that causes red scaly skin to appear anywhere on the body, including the groin area. A persistent rash may be a sign of psoriasis. Other non-infectious conditions that may cause penis irritation include eczema and lichen sclerosus (a rare immune-related disease).

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that spread from the digestive system into the urinary tract. Once inside, the bacteria can multiply and may cause irritation and inflammation.

Sexually transmitted infections

If you’re sexually active, penis irritation could be a sign of an STI such as genital herpes, syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhoea. If you suspect a possible STI, avoid sexual contact and see a doctor to find out the exact cause of your penis irritation. Tell any sexual partners so they can also be examined and treated, if necessary.

Other causes

Penis irritation can also be caused by:

  • friction from sexual activity
  • a skin reaction to latex in condoms
  • household chemicals found in soap, clothing, washing powder
  • a 'drug eruption' where medicine you’re taking causes ulcers to appear on the penis
  • allergies to certain medicines or substances

In boys, possible causes of penis irritation include:

  • too much contact with wet or soiled nappies
  • nappy rash in infants
  • residue from soap
  • physical trauma from forcibly retracting their foreskin

How is penis irritation treated?

Treatment for penis irritation vary, depending on the underlying cause.

Care at home

Here are some ideas for treatment at home.

For men:

  • Soak and wash the affected areas of the penis, including inside your foreskin, with warm water.
  • After washing and going to the toilet, clean and dry the head of your penis.
  • Washing with salt water may help to soothe any itching or discomfort.
  • Pain relievers can also help with soreness and discomfort.

For boys:

  • Use barrier cream for any irritation due to nappy rash.
  • When cleaning, don’t forcibly retract their foreskin, as this may cause other problems such as paraphimosis (when the foreskin is retracted and can’t be moved back to its usual position).

See your doctor if the penis irritation doesn’t resolve, or if you’re concerned about what may be causing it.


A fungal infection such as candidiasis will usually respond quickly to antifungal cream. This can sometimes be combined with a mild cortisone cream or ointment, and is available with a doctor’s prescription.

If your doctor suspects an allergic reaction, you may need further tests to find the exact cause. Other causes of penis irritation may need specific treatment from your doctor.

Can I prevent penis irritation?

Penis irritation may be a cue to reconsider some of your daily habits. In most cases, it’s possible to prevent irritation. Here are some ideas.


Practice good genital hygiene by washing regularly, while also being careful to avoid over-washing. You can do this when you shower by:

  • carefully pulling back the foreskin
  • cleaning the foreskin and head of the penis with warm water and soap free wash
  • drying the area with air, a fan or low heat (avoid rubbing)

Try to avoid soap or shower gel (you could try soap free options — ask your pharmacist for a recommendation). Washing after sex also helps to decrease the chance of penis irritation.

For children

Nappy rash can cause redness and pain in your child’s penis. You can prevent irritation by:

  • changing wet or dirty nappies promptly
  • leaving your child without nappies for short periods of time (fresh air helps prevent nappy rash)
  • soaking skin in a warm bath, and drying thoroughly afterwards
  • applying barrier or nappy-rash cream after each change, including on the tip of the penis
  • avoiding the use of nappy wipes on the penis

Other preventive measures

  • Wash your hands before and after using the toilet.
  • If you’re sexually active, try hypoallergenic condoms designed for people with sensitive skin.
  • Avoid any products you know cause skin irritation.
  • Getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination before being sexually active can help reduce the likelihood of certain types of genital disease and help prevent penile cancer later in life.

Are there complications of penis irritation?

Most cases of penis irritation can be resolved with good hygiene and avoiding anything that may irritate genital skin. However, there are a few possible complications to watch out for.

Sexually transmitted infections

Penis irritation — particularly a rash or discharge — may be a sign of an STI. Tell any sexual partners so they can also be examined and treated, if necessary. It’s best to avoid any sexual contact with others until you have seen a doctor and the infection has cleared.


If you have a problem with recurring penis irritation, ask your doctor about a test for diabetes. Balanitis can be a sign of increased sugar in your urine, which may be encouraging bacterial or fungal growth under your foreskin.

Penile cancer

In very rare cases, a persistent ulcer or a slowly growing lump on the head of the penis could be an early sign of penile cancer. Your doctor or a specialist dermatologist can check whether the irritation is a sign of something more serious.

Should I see my doctor?

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

The Symptom Checker, above, guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Use the healthdirect online Question Builder tool, above, to help prepare for your medical appointment by creating a list of questions to ask your doctor.

Resources and support

For more information and support, try these resources:

Other languages

Do you prefer to read languages other than English?

  • The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne has a fact sheet on penis and foreskin care translated into several languages.
  • Melbourne’s Sexual Health Centre has a fact sheet on balanitis in Chinese, Korean and Thai.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Foreskin problems and circumcision | Healthy Male

The foreskin is a roll of skin that covers the end of the penis. When you’re born, the penis has a foreskin. People who have been circumcised have had their foreskin removed for cultural, religious, medical, or aesthetic reasons. If you do have a foreskin, it’s important to look after it.

Read more on Healthy Male website

Balanitis | SA Health

Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans (head) of the penis.

Read more on SA Health website

Balanitis | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans (head) of the penis. Balanitis is not sexually transmitted. It results from an overgrowth of organisms which are normally present on the skin of the glans.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Foreskins & foreskin care: babies to teens | Raising Children Network

The foreskin covers the end of the penis. Foreskins don’t need any special care in childhood. If your son is concerned about his foreskin, see your GP.

Read more on website

Your guide to foreskin pain and problems | Healthy Male

Every day of your life, you’re going to feel some kind of pain. A bruised knee here, a splinter there; it’s usually nothing to worry about. But when there’s pain in or around your foreskin, you should never leave it unchecked.

Read more on Healthy Male website

Anatomy: That bit does whaaat! - Body Talk

Which of the following statements about male anatomy is false? The foreskin is a fold of skin that covers the head of the penis

Read more on Body Talk website

Thrush (genital)

Thrush (or candidiasis) is a common condition caused by a type of yeast called Candida. It mainly affects the vagina, though may affect the penis too, and can be irritating and painful.

Read more on WA Health website

Thrush - what it is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it

Thrush, also called Candidiasis, isn’t an STI. It’s caused by the vagina or foreskin making too much natural yeast and it can recur regularly and spontaneously.

Read more on NSW Health website

Penis lumps | Causes & treatment of lump on penis| Healthy Male

There are several different types of penis lumps. Many types are harmless. Some common lumps include cysts on the penis, ulcers on the penis, genital warts, and penis papules.

Read more on Healthy Male website

Fractured penis | Healthy Male

A fractured penis can happen when there’s too much force on an erect penis. Because there are no bones in the penis, you can’t have a broken penis the way you can have a broken arm. However, an injury can cause the tissue inside the penis to rupture, resulting in a fracture.

Read more on Healthy Male website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.