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 due to a mild allergic reaction or friction from underwear, there are situations in which this inflammation can be a sign of a more serious problem, like an infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
The burning sensation can also happen only with urinating; this is usually related to a urinary tract infection (UTI).
As there are several causes for a burning sensation in the penis, and therefore it’s important to see your family doctor or urologist. You should particularly get assessed if the burning happens frequently, if you have other symptoms, or if the burning lasts for over a week. See the 6 most common causes for penis burning below.
1. Friction caused by underwear
Burning on the glans with no other symptoms is most commonly caused by friction from underwear. It particularly happens in the summer, due to increased heat and humidity in the genital area. It also occurs more in men who wear synthetic-based fabric underwear (e.g. lycra or viscose).
Although it’s very common, it can be one of the most difficult causes to identify, since there is no specific trigger (just prolonged friction on the penis glans).
What to do: Adequate hygiene habits will help to relieve irritation, and underwear fabrics like cotton can help to prevent it. Sleeping without underwear can also help reduce burning, as it prevents friction during sleep.
2. Allergic reaction
The use of a product, like shower gel or moisturizer, in the genital area can provoke an allergic reaction in the glans. Wearing underwear with synthetic fabric can also result in an allergy and cause a burning sensation..
What to do: Cleanse the affected area with warm water and, if possible, use a mild soap that is safe for genital use. Underwear fabrics like cotton are also recommended.
3. Friction during masturbation or intercourse
Although very similar to friction caused by underwear, the burning sensation after masturbation or sexual intercourse occurs due to the inadequate lubrication. This problem 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. Due to the emergence of other symptoms, this cause can often 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. Proper genital hygiene will help to resolve the burning sensation. You should see your family doctor or urologist if the burning or other symptoms do not improve within 3 days or if a sexually transmitted disease is suspected.
4. Sexually transmitted infection (STI's)
A burning sensation in the penis is one of the most common symptoms of any sexually transmitted infection. Common infections that can cause burning include herpes, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
With an STI, it’s common for other symptoms to appear in addition to the burning sensation, such as pus, lesions, or redness. They are more common in men who have more than one sexual partner and who don't use a condom.
What to do: If you suspect you have an STI, you should see your doctor or urologist for diagnosis. Treatment and medication will depend on the type of infection you have.
5. Yeast infection
A yeast infection, or candidiasis, is the overgrowth of fungus on the penis. Although this happens less frequently in men, it can happen as a result of poor hygiene or following unprotected sexual contact with another person with an yeast infection.
In addition to the burning sensation, other common symptoms include intense redness on the glans, discharge, constant itching, and even small white bumps on the penis.
What to do: If you suspect you have yeast infection, consult your family doctor or urologist for assessment. Treatment typically involves the use of an anti-fungal like fluconazole to eliminate the fungus and relieve symptoms. It’s also important to keep the intimate area clean and dry during the flare-up, and to avoid excessive intake of sugar.
6. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A UTI is usually easy to identify, as it has very specific symptoms. These symptoms include 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, particularly in the urethra.
What to do: A UTI needs to be treated with an antibiotic and therefore you should consult your family doctor or urologist if you suspect a UTI. Other considerations, like adequate hydration and hygiene, will also help with treatment and prevention of a UTI.