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Balanitis

Balanitis is a skin irritation on the head of the penis that can affect men and boys.

Symptoms of balanitis

Balanitis affects the head of the penis and the foreskin.

It occurs far more often in men and boys who haven't been circumcised.

Symptoms include :
  • a sore, itchy and smelly penis
  • redness and swelling
  • build-up of thick fluid
  • pain when peeing

Some adults may also have a tight foreskin that won't pull back. This is a condition called phimosis.


Treating balanitis

Most cases of balanitis are easily treated with good hygiene and creams and ointments.

Hygiene

If you have balanitis, you should clean your penis daily with lukewarm water and gently dry it.

  • Don't use soap, bubble bath, shampoo or any other potential irritant.
  • Dry gently under the foreskin after peeing.
  • Try a soap substitute like an emollient, available from a pharmacy.
Cleaning a child's penis
  • Don't pull back their foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed.
  • If the child is still in nappies, change them frequently.
  • Don't use baby wipes to clean their penis.
Creams and ointments
  • steroid cream or ointment for a simple skin irritation
  • antifungal cream or tablets for a yeast infection
  • antibiotics for a bacterial infection

Circumcision may be advised in rare cases where a child keeps getting balanitis.

Sex and balanitis

You can have sex during treatment if your balanitis isn't caused by an infection.

But if it's caused by an infection, like an STI or thrush, there's a risk of passing this on.


Causes of balanitis

Balanitis can be caused by:

  • poor hygiene, leading to a build-up of smegma
  • irritation under the foreskin caused by pee
  • soaps, shower gels, and other skin irritants
  • thrush
  • a bacterial infection
  • a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and lichen sclerosus
  • children fiddling with their foreskin

Preventing balanitis

You can reduce your chances of getting balanitis by:

  • keeping your penis clean
  • avoiding harsh soaps and other skin irritants
  • using soap substitutes, such as an emollient
  • practising safe sex to avoid an STI
  • using latex-free condoms if you have a latex allergy

Young boys may not yet be able to clean under their foreskin because it may not fully pull back yet.

Don't attempt to pull back a child's foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed, as this can cause damage.

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