Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis or clitoris due to infection or another cause. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but is usually not serious. Symptoms include a tight foreskin and pain while urinating.

Balanitis itself is not contagious. However, a person can pass on the underlying infection that caused it. Here are some facts about balanitis:

  • The condition typically occurs on uncircumcised penises.
  • Treatment usually involves addressing the underlying cause to help prevent future episodes.
  • Balanitis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Females can also have balanitis, as the term is used to describe inflammation of the clitoris. However, this article will focus on balanitis of the glans of the penis.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Balanitis is inflammation of the glans, often referred to as the head of the penis. It can occur due to an infection, a fungus, or another cause.

It is a common condition, affecting 3–11% of all males during their lifetimes.

A similar condition, posthitis, can occur at the same time. Posthitis is inflammation of the foreskin. Balanoposthitis occurs in about 6% of uncircumcised males. The condition only affects uncircumcised penises.

Since the terms balanitis and balanoposthitis are similar, doctors often use them interchangeably.

Signs and symptoms of balanitis include:

  • redness around the head of the penis
  • shiny, tight skin on the glans
  • foul smell
  • tight foreskin
  • irritation, soreness, inflammation, or itchiness around the head of the penis
  • lumpy, thick discharge coming from under the foreskin
  • pain during urination
  • sores around the head of the penis
  • swollen glands near the penis

Treatment for balanitis depends on the cause. A person should see a doctor to get the correct diagnosis and proper treatment for their condition. Once a doctor treats the underlying condition, the balanitis should clear on its own.

A doctor may recommend the following treatments for balanitis:

  • avoiding excessive washing of the genitals
  • applying a topical antifungal cream, such as clotrimazole, miconazole, or nystatin
  • taking oral antifungal medication, such as fluconazole
  • using a combination of oral and topical antifungal medications
  • applying low potency topical steroids
  • using a cephalosporin antibiotic
  • undergoing circumcision (mainly as prevention)

Though a person cannot pass balanitis to their partner, females should get tested for Candida. They may also benefit from starting treatment just in case.

There are three types of balanitis:

  • Zoon’s balanitis: This type includes inflammation of the head of the penis and the foreskin. This type usually affects middle-aged and older males with uncircumcised penises.
  • Circinate balanitis: This type of balanitis is often associated with reactive arthritis. Small, painless lesions appear on the head of the penis.
  • Pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis: In this type, scaly, wart-like lesions appear on the penis head.

There are no real home remedies for balanitis. However, good hygiene plays an important role in preventing balanitis. Some steps a person can take include:

  • cleaning the penis every day
  • not using soaps, bubble baths, or anything containing chemicals that could act as an irritant
  • drying the area beneath the foreskin following urination
  • substituting harsh soaps for an emollient

Balanitis can stem from a number of underlying conditions.

The most common cause of balanitis is the poor hygiene of an uncircumcised penis. Poor hygiene can lead to a buildup of dead skin, bacteria, sweat, and other debris that can cause inflammation.

Infection with Candida albicans is another common cause. Candida is the fungus that causes thrush.

Other potential causes of balanitis include:

  • Bacteria: These can multiply rapidly in the moist and warm conditions under the foreskin.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Examples include herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, and syphilis.
  • Skin conditions: In some cases, skin conditions, such as lichen planus, eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis, can cause balanitis to occur.
  • Irritants: Several chemicals, detergents, and perfumes can act as irritants that lead to balanitis.

Is balanitis an STI?

Balanitis is not an STI. A person cannot pass the condition itself to a sexual partner through sexual activity.

However, the underlying cause of balanitis can be an STI. A person’s doctor will likely rule out the presence of an STI during diagnosis.

The most common risk factor for balanitis is poor hygiene related to an uncircumcised penis. Washing daily and drying the penis carefully, so no moisture remains under the foreskin, helps reduce the risk, although excessive genital washing with soap may aggravate the condition.

Other possible risk factors include:

  • Diabetes: Living with diabetes increases the risk of infections, especially if blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. If glucose is present in urine, some of it may remain on the foreskin. Glucose helps bacteria multiply more quickly.
  • Phimosis: Phimosis occurs when the foreskin is too tight, making it difficult or impossible to retract it or pull it back fully over the glans. Sweat, urine, and other substances can accumulate under the foreskin, causing irritation and allowing germs to multiply. Phimosis is rare in teenagers and adults.
  • Unprotected sex: Having unprotected vaginal intercourse with a partner who has a yeast infection increases the risk of balanitis.
  • Phimosis: A condition in which the foreskin is too tight.

In addition, there may be an association between balanitis and penile cancer. In one study, both balanitis and inflammation of the foreskin, called posthitis, were reported in 45% of subjects with penile cancer compared to 8% of control subjects who did not have cancer.

Another meta-analysis suggests balanitis carries a 3.8-fold increase in penile cancer risk. However, early circumcision appears to decrease the risk of penile cancer. Data also show that circumcised males have a 68% lower prevalence of balanitis than uncircumcised males.

Other possible risk factors associated with balanitis include urinary catheterization, obesity, living in a nursing home, and exposure to irritants.

A doctor can often diagnose balanitis by observing the redness and inflammation of the glans.

During an examination, they will need to rule out an STI and determine the underlying cause.

As part of diagnosis, a doctor may order tests that could include:

  • a swab from the glans to test for infection
  • a urine test, if they suspect diabetes
  • a blood test to determine glucose levels

Rarely, a doctor may perform a biopsy, in which they take a sample of the inflamed skin and send it to a lab for testing.

The goals of treatment typically involve reducing sexual or urinary dysfunction and reducing the risk of developing cancer in the area.

This means aggressively treating an underlying condition or avoiding potential irritants to help the condition clear. With the right treatment, a person’s symptoms should typically improve.

Following balanitis, a person can take steps to avoid getting it again.

Practicing good hygiene, including cleaning the penis daily and keeping the area under the foreskin clean and dry, is the most important step a person can take to prevent balanitis.

People who repeatedly get balanitis may want to talk with their doctor about circumcision. They may also need to figure out if something else is causing the condition to recur.

The following hygiene tips may help prevent balanitis:

  1. A person should pull back the foreskin to expose the glans.
  2. Then, they should thoroughly wash the area gently with warm water, avoiding soap, which may irritate the condition.
  3. A person may use an aqueous cream or another neutral nonsoap cleanser, but they should rinse it off completely.
  4. Before a person replaces the foreskin, they should dry the glans completely.

Men who tend to develop balanitis after sex should wash their penis after sexual activity.

Avoiding irritants

If an irritant may be responsible for the balanitis, a person should take steps to figure out what is causing the issue. Some possible irritants can include:

  • condoms with lubricants or spermicide
  • detergents
  • perfumes
  • dyes
  • fabrics

Balanitis is inflammation of the head of the penis, typically due to poor hygiene and an uncircumcised penis. A person may prevent the condition by cleaning daily and avoiding harsh chemicals. When diagnosing the condition, a doctor will likely check for underlying conditions and treat them to help the balanitis clear.