Balanitis is an inflammation of the head and foreskin of the penis.
Balanitis generally affects uncircumcised males. These are men who have a foreskin, which is the "hood" of soft skin that partially covers the head of the penis. In balanitis, the head and foreskin become red and inflamed. (In circumcised men, who lack a foreskin, these symptoms only affect the tip of the penis.) The condition often occurs due to the fungus Candida albicans, the same organism that causes vaginal yeast infections in women. Balanitis (which is also referred to as balanoposthitis) can be caused by a variety of other fungal or bacterial infections, or may occur due to a sensitivity reaction to common chemical agents.
Uncircumcised men are more at risk for balanitis due to the presence of the foreskin. The snug fit of the foreskin around the top of the penis tends to create a damp, warm environment that encourages the growth of microorganisms. Most of the organisms associated with balanitis are already present on the penis, but in very small numbers. However, if the area between the head and foreskin is not cleansed thoroughly on a regular basis, these organisms can multiply and lead to infection.
Diabetes can increase the risk of developing the condition.
Causes and symptoms
Balanitis is usually a result of poor hygiene—for example, neglecting to bathe for several days. A failure to properly wash (or rinse) the area between the head and foreskin can lead to the development of fungal or bacterial infections that cause the condition. In other cases, balanitis may occur due to an allergic reaction: Some men may be sensitive to chemicals found in harsh soaps, laundry detergents, or contraceptive creams. Men who contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as trichimoniasis may also develop symptoms.
The symptoms of balanitis are limited to the foreskin and head of the penis (in circumcised men, only the head is affected). These include redness, inflammation, pain, discharge, sore or itchy skin, and difficulty retracting the foreskin.
Balanitis is usually diagnosed based on a brief physical examination. This may be conducted by your regular health care provider or by a urologist, the type of doctor who specializes in such disorders. The doctor may take a sample of the discharge (if any) to determine the nature of the possible infection. A urine test may be recommended to evaluate glucose (sugar) levels in the urine. Balanitis treatment is typically covered by medical insurance.
The treatment of balanitis depends on the specific cause, which can vary from case to case. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, while topical antifungals such as clotrimazole can combat balanitis caused by Candida. If an allergic reaction is causing symptoms, the goal is to identify the chemical agent responsible. Ointments or creams may be used to ease skin irritation.
No matter what the cause, it is important to thoroughly clean the penis on a daily basis in order to alleviate symptoms. If the condition keeps occurring, or if the inflammation is interfering with urination, circumcision may be advised.
According to practitioners of alternative medicine, certain herbs may be effective in controlling or preventing yeast infections—a common cause of balanitis. These remedies include garlic, calendula, and goldenseal. Eating yogurt that contains acidophilus may also help to clear up a Candida infection.
Most cases go away quickly once the cause is identified and treated. However, regular bouts of balanitis can result in urethral stricture.
Proper hygiene is the best way to avoid balanitis. Circumcision is sometimes performed to prevent repeated cases.
Tierney, Lawrence M., et al. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Mayser, P. "Mycotic infections of the penis." Andrologia 31 Supplement 1 (1999): 13-6.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20894. (888) 346-3656. 〈http://www.nlm.nih.gov〉.
Acidophilus— A bacteria believed to combat yeast infections.
Circumcision— The surgical removal of the foreskin.
Urethral stricture— A narrowing of the urethra (urine tube).