What Is It?
Redness, irritation and soreness of the head of the penis (the glans) is called balanitis. Sometimes it may present as a discharge coming from underneath the foreskin. The foreskin itself may be inflamed (called "posthitis") or more commonly it is combined with balanitis. It is a very common problem and is generally not serious. Many men worry excessively about it, probably because of the site involved.
What Can Cause It?
- Poor hygiene. Men should gently wash the skin under the foreskin once a day or matter can collect which can produce inflammation.
- Overzealous hygiene: Some men wash the skin under the foreskin excessively hard or too frequently and may use disinfectants which all may cause inflammation.
- Infection: The commonest infection causing balanitis is thrush (candidiasis). It is caused by a yeast germ which is a very common natural infection in women. If men develop thrush, his female partner, if relevant, usually needs treatment although she may not have symptoms. Sometimes other germs or other conditions may cause balanitis.
- Reaction to infection: Some men get balanitis as a reaction to infection in their partner’s vagina. This cannot be sorted unless their partner is seen and therefore some men with recurrent balanitis will be asked to invite their partner to attend the Genito-Urinary Medicine Department.
- Dermatitis due to irritation or allergy. The skin of the glans and foreskin is sensitive and prone to react to irritants or chemicals causing inflammation.
Products that may do this include:
1. Certain soaps and cosmetics, especially those with a perfume.
2. Some washing powders and fabric conditioners.
3. Chemicals on the hands which may be transferred to the penis when urinating.
4. Condoms or their spermicidal lubricant.5. Swear or urine collecting under the foreskin.
- Certain specific skin conditions.
What May Help
- We can check for infection by examining the skin and taking swabs for testing. We shall give treatment when appropriate. Your partner may be asked to attend or be checked elsewhere if a sexually transmitted infection is found or if the balanitis is recurrent and related to sex.
- Care should be taken with hygiene to ensure adequate cleanliness without overenthusiasm.
- Hands should be washed both before and after urination if chemical contamination is a problem.
- Scented soaps and cosmetics should be avoided. Simple ‘non-biological’ products should be used for washing underwear. Remember allergies may appear after years of use with a product that has not previously caused problems. If symptoms are related to condom use the skin may be reacting to the lubricant rather than the latex of the condom. It may be worth using condoms lubricated with non-spermicidal agents and then if problems persist condoms specially made for people with sensitive skin (e.g. Allergy).
- Many mild cases result from sweat and sometimes urine collecting under the foreskin and keeping the area dry usually helps although the foreskin should never be left pulled back.
- Hydrocortisone cream may be given for dermatitis and allergy testing may be carried out if your problem seems to be allergic.