What is balanitis?

Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis, also known as the glans, due to an infection or another cause. It is a very common condition affecting 1 in 25 boys and 1 in 30 adult males who have not been circumcised. It can happen at any age, but boys under the age of 4, and adult males are at the highest risk.

Fortunately, although the condition can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, it is not usually serious. Topical cream will ease and relieve the inflammation.

Signs and symptoms of balanitis

The symptoms can include:

  • Tight shiny, reddish skin on the glans.
  • Inflammation, soreness, or irritation of the head of the penis.
  • A thick discharge manifests under the foreskin.
  • Painful urination and an unpleasant smell.
  • Swollen glands in the area of the penis.

Because some of these symptoms are similar to those of a yeast infection and a sexually transmitted infection, a good idea will be to visit the doctor for a diagnosis.

Types of balanitis

  1. Zoon’s balanitis. This is inflammation of the glans and foreskin which mostly affects uncircumcised middle-aged to older men.
  2. Circinate balanitis. This often occurs as a result of very bad arthritis.
  3. Keratotic condition. Keratosis is a skin lesion that can appear anywhere on the body including the head of the penis. It is characterised by a wart-like lesion on the glans.

These 3 are not the usual types of balanitis that may affect younger men and boys.

What causes balanitis?

Balanitis can be caused by a number of factors. Here are some of them.

  • The most common cause is that of a yeast infection known as candida which manifests as thrush.
  • A bacterial infection that can multiply in the moist, warm conditions under the foreskin.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI) that include one or more of the herpes strains, as well as syphilis.
  • Certain skin conditions like long-term eczema which leads to itchy, cracked skin, and psoriasis – another scaly reddened skin disorder.
  • Skin irritants such as chemicals used in condoms, lubricants, and spermicides.
  • Underclothing that has not been properly rinsed of washing powder or detergents.
  • Some perfumed soaps or shower gels.

Unprotected sex, poor hygiene, high sugar which slows the healing of infections, all add to the risk of developing balanitis.


A doctor can diagnose balanitis by examining any inflammation or redness of the glans. The doc will also query the use of products that may be irritants. Any possible skin conditions such as dermatitis that may be affecting the genital area, will also be investigated.

Other tests can include a urine test for diabetes or a blood test for sugar levels.


Depending on the cause of the balanitis, treatment is fairly simple. A topical cream will help, as will paying attention to hygiene. A bacterial infection may have to be treated with an antibiotic, and in chronic cases, you may be referred to a dermatologist who specialises in skin conditions.

If the balanitis keeps recurring because of a very tight foreskin, as a last resort the doctor might suggest circumcision, which might be a bit awkward for a while, but it will definitely put an end to the problem.

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November 10, 2020

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