Balanitis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis. When the head of the penis and the foreskin are both affected, it is referred to as balanoposthitis. Both of these conditions are characterized by redness, itching and swelling in the area. This inflammation is commonly a result of a fungal infection caused by Candida albicans fungus, but it can also happen due to a bacterial infection, or skin irritation from underwear or from a hygiene product. 

Although it can happen in any man or boy, balanitis is more common with uncircumcised penises. Having the foreskin intact increases the risk for an accumulation of discharge, moisture and bacteria beneath the foreskin. 

You should seek a doctor for assessment if you experience any symptoms of balanitis, so that appropriate treatment can be started. 

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Main symptoms

In addition to redness at the penis head, balanitis can also cause symptoms like:

  • Intense itching 
  • Foul odor 
  • Increased sensitivity 
  • Mild swelling at the penis head 
  • White or clear discharge 
  • Pain or burning with urination 

In some cases, the foreskin can become more difficult to retract, as it is swollen and tight from inflammation. 

When these symptoms emerge, it is important to seek medical assistance to identify the correct cause and start appropriate treatment. 

What can cause it 

The most common cause of balanitis is a yeast infection caused by the Candida albicans fungus. This fungus is commonly found in the penis and but can overgrow, leading to infection. Learn more about yeast infections in men and how they are treated.

There are other, less serious causes that can lead to penile skin irritation, like bad hygiene, allergies to products or friction from underwear. More serious causes include bacterial infections, sexually-transmitted infections, diabetes or injury. In addition, some systemic conditions, like eczema or psoriasis may also be associated with balanitis.   

Treatment options

Most cases of balanitis can be treated with adequate hygiene and by using cotton underwear. However, if symptoms do not improve, you should see your doctor to identify the cause and start a targeted treatment. 

Generally, the doctor can prescribe: 

  • Corticoid ointments: Like hydrocortisone, which can be used in all cases to improve symptoms and decrease inflammation. 
  • Antifungal ointments: Like nystatin, clotrimazole and terbinafine, which are used to treat yeast infections. Check out other ways to treat yeast infections.
  • Antibiotic ointments: like clindamycin or mupirocin, which are used to treat bacterial infections 

If symptoms persist or return after treatment, the doctor should assess for allergies, as a certain soap or hygiene product could be causing irritation. In these cases, you should stop using the triggering product to relieve symptoms. 

After treatment, to prevent balanitis from recurring, you should keep the penis clean and dry, and avoid using irritating products. Ensure you use a condom during sex to decrease your risk of sexually-transmitted diseases. 

If your balanitis is chronic or recurrent, you should see a urologist as leaving this condition untreated can lead to other complications, like difficulty urinating or phimosis.