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Penis burning: 6 possible causes and what to do

May 2020

A burning sensation in the penis is usually due to inflammation of the glans, also known as balanitis. Although in most cases this inflammation occurs only because of a small allergic reaction or friction caused by the underwear, there are situations in which this inflammation can be a sign of a more serious problems, such as an infection or a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The burning sensation can also happen only when urinating, and this is usually related to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Penis burning: 6 possible causes and what to do

As there are several causes for a burning sensation in the penis, it’s important to see a urologist, especially if this happens very often, if there are other symptoms, or if it takes more than 1 week to disappear. The most frequent causes include:

1. Friction caused by underwear

This is the main reason for a burning sensation on the head of the penis that is not accompanied by other symptoms. This type of alteration is more frequent during the summer, because of the heat in the intimate area, and in men who use synthetic fabric underwear, such as lycraor viscose.

Although it’s very common, it can be one of the most difficult causes to identify, since it’s not caused by anything specific, just the friction of the skin against the underwear fabric.

What to do: proper hygiene of the intimate area is necessary to relieve irritation, and underwear with natural fabric, such as cotton, is recommended. Sleeping without underwear can also help reduce burning, as it prevents friction with the underwear during sleep.

2. Allergic reactions

In case of an allergic reaction, the burning sensation usually appears after using some type of product in the intimate area, which can range from a shower gel that was used directly on the penis, to any type of moisturizer that may have been applied in the area.

Wearing underwear with synthetic fabric can also result in an allergy, causing similar symptoms.

What to do: wash the region with warm water and, if possible, use a soap suitable for the intimate area. The use of natural fabric underwear, such as cotton, is also recommended.

3. Friction during masturbation or intercourse

Although very similar to friction caused by underwear, the burning sensation after masturbation or sexual intercourse is due to the lack of proper lubrication and can affect almost all men.

In addition to the burning sensation, this type of friction can make the penis very red and painful, especially in the area of the glans. As there are more symptoms other than burning sensation, this type of cause can be confused with a more serious problem, such as a sexually transmitted disease.

What to do: ideally, lubrication should always be used during sexual contact or masturbation, especially if a condom isn’t used. However, proper penis hygiene is essential if there’s already a friction burn and an appointment with the urologist should be booked if the sensation doesn't improve in 3 days or if a sexual disease is suspected.

Penis burning: 6 possible causes and what to do

4. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD's)

The burning sensation in the penis is one of the most common symptoms of any sexually transmitted disease, such as herpes, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or Chlamydia.

However, it’s common for other symptoms to appear in addition to the burning sensation, such as pus, wounds, or very intense redness. This type of infection is more common in men who havemore than one sexual partner and who don't use a condom. 

What to do: whenever there is a suspicion of a sexually transmitted disease, it’s very important to see a urologist for a diagnosis and the start of the most appropriate treatment, as it’s necessary to use different drugs and doses depending on the type of infection.

5. Candidiasis

Candidiasis is the excessive development of fungi on the penis. Although this happens less frequently in men, it can happen when there’s poor hygiene in the intimate area or when the man has unprotected sexual contact with another person with an yeast infection.

In addition to the burning sensation, other common symptoms include intense redness of the head of the penis, pus, constant itching, and even small white bumps on the penis. 

What to do: if there’s a suspicion of candidiasis, see a urologist to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment with an anti-fungal drug, usually fluconazole, to eliminate the fungus and relieve symptoms. It’s also important to keep the intimate area clean and dry during the candidiasis episode, as well as to avoid excessive sugar consumption.

6. Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infection is usually easy to identify, as it has very specific symptoms, such as a burning sensation when urinating, a feeling of heaviness in the bladder, and a frequent urge to urinate.

Although the burning sensation is usually associated with the urge to urinate, some men may also experience a constant burning sensation in the penis, especially in the urethra.

What to do: a urinary tract infection needs to be treated with an antibiotic. So, if this infection is suspected, it’s important to see a urologist to start the appropriate treatment. It’s also vital to take other precautions, such as drinking plenty of water and the proper hygiene of the intimate area.

Bibliography >

  • DIAS, Josée Santos. Urologia fundamental: na prática clínica. Lousã: Lidel - edições técnicas, 2010. 152-158.
  • WEIN, Alan J. et al. CAMPBELL-WALSH Urologia. 11.ed. Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier, 2019. 387-420.
  • MORRIS, Brian J. KRIEGER, John N. Penile Inflammatory Skin Disorders and the Preventive Role of Circumcision. Int J Prev Med. Vol.8(1). 32, 2017
  • HEALTHLINE. How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Friction Burn on Your Penis. Available on: <https://www.healthline.com/health/mens-health/friction-burn-penis>. Access in 14 May 2019
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