This article is about balanitis, an inflammation of the penile head. The condition can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including pain, swelling, and soreness. Balanitis is preventable and treatable. Learn more here.
The skin on the glans penis or penis head is sensitive, which is why it may be prone to inflammation and irritation. This is particularly the case in uncircumcised men. While this problem is easy to prevent and treat, men are reluctant to discuss it with someone else. This article aims to inform you about balanitis, which isn’t uncommon, and show you why it happens, what are the signs, and how to get rid of it. Scroll down to learn more.
Balanitis is inflammation of the glans penis (head of the penis). The term derives from the Greek words balanos (acorn) and itis (suffix meaning inflammation). It tends to occur at the same time as posthitis (inflammation of the prepuce or foreskin). The condition when both types of inflammation occur together is called balanoposthitis.
That said, doctors often use the terms balanitis and balanoposthitis interchangeably. Uncircumcised men and boys tend to develop inflammation of the glans penis.
Balanitis is quite common; it affects 11% of men seen in urology clinics across the United States. This condition affects around 3% of uncircumcised men around the world. According to Cleveland Clinic, about 10% of men will develop inflammation of the glans penis at some point in their lifetime. The condition mainly affects children, especially uncircumcised boys under the age of four.
While it may seem otherwise, this condition is not a sexually transmitted disease and it is impossible to spread the condition itself to a sexual partner. That being said, it is possible to transfer tiny organisms that cause balanitis.
The condition is not serious, but it can be accompanied by symptoms that patients may consider frustrating or uncomfortable.
Types of balanitis
Three main types of balanitis are listed below:
Zoon’s balanitis (ZB) – the most common type of this co developing, refers to inflammation of the glans penis, and foreskin. Uncircumcised middle-aged to elderly men are primarily affected. ZB was first described by Professor Johannes Jacobus Zoon and it is believed to occur due to irritation and retention of urine or smegma, poor genital hygiene, and leading to repeated local infection.
Circinate balanitis – one of the more common types of this condition and it is primarily caused by reactive arthritis. The formation of small, yet painless lesions on the glans penis is the main indicator of this condition. The lesions tend to be white plaques that form centrifugally and cover the surface of the head of the penis. It is usually observed with genitourinary chlamydia-induced arthritis and, in rare cases, following gastrointestinal infections. In more than half of patients, the pathogen that caused inflammation is unknown.
Pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis (PKMB) – a rare type of this penile condition. PKMB affects primarily uncircumcised elderly men. The condition is indicated by the presence of hyperkeratotic (thick) plaque over the head of the penis. The plaque also includes a thick micaceous (silver) scale. A paper from the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS explained that PKMB is chronic and often recurs after treatment.
In addition to the abovementioned types, other skin-related conditions can affect the glans penis. A good example is lichen planus, the formation of a rash on one or more parts of the body. Lichen planus can develop on the glans penis or the penile shaft as a single lesion or multiple lesions organized in a ring-like formation.
Causes of balanitis
Men are usually have uncircumcised penis or poor hygiene. The latter causes the buildup of dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells, thereby paving the way to the inflammatory state. Men develop this penile condition primarily due to infection with a fungus that causes thrush, Candida albicans. More precisely, genital yeast infection can cause this problem.
Major causes of the inflammation of the glans penis are:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis are associated with the inflammatory penile condition. That’s why engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse makes a person more susceptible to developing this condition.
- Bacteria – The area under the foreskin tends to be moist and warm meaning it’s a fertile ground for the buildup of bacteria
- Diabetes – High blood glucose levels increase the concentration of sugar in urine. The urine, rich in glucose, may dribble onto the glans during urination or afterward. That way, it reaches under the foreskin and creates a fertile ground for bacteria and yeast to spread and grow.
- Scabies infection – Scabies is an itchy rash that small burrowing mites cause. They are contagious and pass from one person to another during sexual intercourse. Scabies infection is characterized by raised lines on the penile skin, itching, and crusty, blister-like sores
- Certain skin conditions – the presence of a skin problem that causes scaly, dry, or itchy skin can also lead to balanitis symptoms in men. Good examples are eczema and psoriasis
- Exposure to irritants – using or being exposed to products with harsh ingredients including perfumes, chemicals, and detergents can cause this penile condition by irritating and inflaming the skin.
Signs and symptoms of balanitis
Balanitis symptoms are listed below:
- Redness – occurs due to inflammation of the glans penis. The inflamed skin appears red and becomes itchy. The severity of redness may vary from a small patchy area on the surface of the skin to reddening of the entire glans penis.
Irritation and soreness – due to irritation, infection, and the ensuing inflammation, the skin becomes sore. A patient with balanitis may notice their penis head is not only red but also painful to the touch.
- Foreskin problems – since this type of inflammation usually affects uncircumcised penises, problems with foreskin may occur. A man with this penile condition may experience issues such as a tight, shiny foreskin and thick, lumpy discharge emerging from under the foreskin (smegma). They may also notice a foul smell. Sometimes it’s difficult or impossible for a man with this condition to pull his foreskin back.
- Swelling – inflammation itself is indicated by redness, soreness, and swelling of the area it affects. This penile condition is not the exception. An inflamed glans penis can appear swollen in addition to being red and sore.
In addition to the abovementioned symptoms of balanitis in men, other signs may also appear including unusual penile discharge (not the same as discharge from under the foreskin), sores on the glans penis, swelling of the groin lymph nodes, and painful urination.
Balanitis symptoms may vary from one patient to another in terms of severity. Additionally, the symptoms may depend on the cause of this penile condition.
Diagnosis of balanitis
Doctors diagnose this condition through a physical exam because the symptoms are visible. Based on the appearance of inflamed and erythematous (reddened) glans during a physical exam and the symptoms described by the patient, the doctor will diagnose balanitis. However, a doctor will order a few tests to determine the cause.
The healthcare professional may order the following tests to diagnose the cause of inflammation of the glans penis:
- Urinalysis (a urine test) to check for signs of infection and diabetes (especially if a patient hasn’t been diagnosed with diabetes at that point)
Blood tests to analyze for the presence of infection and determine blood glucose (sugar) levels
- A swab of the urethral opening to check for the presence of infections including sexually transmitted infections
- Skin scraping sample to check for the presence of mites
- Biopsy is only when a doctor suspects that a patient has another condition that resembles balanitis, the goal is to rule out premalignant disease
During the physical exam, a doctor may also evaluate the foreskin in an uncircumcised patient to check its mobility. This is done to rule out complications affecting the foreskin (mentioned in the FAQ section below).
Treatments of balanitis
The most important thing to bear in mind is that balanitis is a treatable condition. The exact treatment approach depends on the cause of the illness. That’s why determining the cause of inflammation is the most crucial aspect of the diagnostic process.
Sometimes, a patient doesn’t need a specific balanitis treatment, but most people do. The doctor recommends the most suitable treatment approach for each patient. Some of the most common treatments include the following:
- Better hygiene – Since poor hygiene contributes to balanitis in men, a doctor may recommend improving hygiene practices e.g. bathing or showering more frequently, drying carefully, and being cautious with products used in the process.
- Antibiotics – The doctor may prescribe antibiotics in cases when balanitis symptoms result from an STI
- Antifungal creams (clotrimazole) – treatment approach for cases when the symptoms occur due to yeast infection. Patients are instructed to apply the cream on the glans penis and foreskin.
- Circumcision – recommended in cases of recurrent inflammation of the head of the penis. This procedure is particularly useful for men with very tight foreskin.
- Dorsal slit – an option in cases when a man has recurrent inflammation of the glans penis, but doesn’t want to get circumcised. This procedure involves opening the tight foreskin up so the head of the penis is visible, but the foreskin isn’t removed.
- Diabetes management – a healthcare provider may advise men with diabetes to keep their condition under control to treat this inflammation as well.
Treating inflammation of this kind at home isn’t that complicated. Besides bathing regularly it’s important to choose products wisely. While there are no dietary supplements that treat this condition, products such as Virectin Male Enhancement Supplement help men improve erectile function and sexual performance, especially when they lose confidence (and this inflammation can take its toll on a man’s self-esteem).
How to prevent balanitis?
Balanitis in men is a preventable condition. While the prevention methods are useful for all men to practice, they are particularly important for uncircumcised people because they are more susceptible to developing this condition.
Good hygiene practice is a crucial aspect of preventing inflammation of the glans penis. Wash and completely dry your penis regularly. Uncircumcised men should fully retract the foreskin when bathing or taking a shower.
Proper hygiene in the prevention of balanitis in men is important because it helps avoid skin irritation and prevents the accumulation of bacteria and excess moisture underneath the foreskin. Make sure to take baths or showers regularly, but use an unscented soap or body wash. Unscented products don’t irritate the gentle skin of the glans penis. Opt for products that don’t contain harsh ingredients such as alcohol or parabens. They may irritate the skin.
When drying after shower, don’t rub with the towel. Gently pat instead.
Diabetic men may want to be proactive about the management of their chronic metabolic condition. Take medications regularly and have a healthy lifestyle. Keeping blood glucose levels under control will help lower the risk of this condition. On that note, men with penile symptoms should be screened for diabetes too.
Use protection when having sexual intercourse. Men who have unprotected sex, especially with multiple sexual partners, may want to get screened for STIs regularly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does balanitis last?
The symptoms of inflammation usually last up to seven days. Since it is not a serious condition, inflammation of the penis head tends to clear up within a few days after starting balanitis treatment. It can last less than a week with Drugs.com reporting the condition may clear out in three to five days. Make sure to see a healthcare professional if symptoms of this illness don’t go away within a week.
Can balanitis cure itself?
Balanitis can cure itself, but not always. When the penile skin is inflamed, but not infected it’s enough to wash the affected area (penis head) and dry it carefully.
In this case, a patient doesn’t need antibiotics. The condition may go away on its own. However, it’s also possible to have stronger inflammation that requires specific balanitis treatment.
Medications prescribed by the doctor can treat this inflammation, but supplements can’t. However, they can improve sexual function when this condition affects it.
Why does balanitis occur?
Balanitis occurs because the glans penis becomes inflamed. This happens for many reasons and some of them are injury, infection, or allergic reaction. Boys and men can develop this condition due to several causes including genital yeast infection, STIs, scabies infection, reactive arthritis, allergy or sensitivity to chemicals or harsh soaps, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and diabetes.
A post on the National Library of Medicine confirms  that this condition results mainly from factors such as smegma, retention of moisture, and heat, all of which are problems associated with having foreskin. The cause of inflammation and its symptoms determine the specific balanitis treatment approach.
When is balanitis serious?
The condition is generally not serious. However, patients with balanitis symptoms should see a healthcare provider to see what’s causing their symptoms. After all, the treatment entirely depends on what’s behind inflammation. Untreated penile conditions can be serious and lead to various complications.
Complications may include pain, paraphimosis, phimosis, ulcerative lesions of the foreskin, urethral/meatal stricture, and premalignant lesions transforming into malignant lesions. Paraphimosis is a medical emergency; it affects uncircumcised men. In this complicated situation, the foreskin is trapped behind the corona of the glans penis (penis crown). Phimosis is when a man is unable to retract the skin of the prepuce. Meatal stricture refers to the narrowing of the opening at the end of the penis while urethral stricture is when the urethra becomes narrow.
Untreated inflammation can cause sexual problems including erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. This explains why men use enhancement pills such as Virectin when they want to protect and improve their sexual performance.
Balanitis is a common condition that affects uncircumcised men primarily. The causes of this condition are numerous, but the good news is that it’s both preventable and treatable. Being proactive about hygiene helps reduce the risk of this inflammation. Taking action is important for men’s sexual and reproductive health, which is why men may turn to natural medicine and dietary supplements like Virectin for enhancement. Practice safe sex and good hygiene, manage underlying conditions, and see your doctor if symptoms occur.