Balanitis is an infection that affects one of men’s sensitive areas—the foreskin or the head of the penis. It is a condition that can be treated, and can easily be prevented. Balanitis is often uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful. It is actually a common condition that affects about 1 in every 20 boys and in 1 in 30 uncircumcised males at some time in their life. Boys under the age of 4 years and uncircumcised men are at the highest risk, but it can still occur at any age.
The inflammation or irritation is typically caused by infections or chronic skin conditions. Poor hygiene can also contribute to skin irritation. Both inadequate cleansing and too much cleansing can actually add to this problem. Poor hygiene causes overgrowth of either bacteria or yeast and the foreskin is an ideal place for these organisms to thrive because moisture gets trapped in that area.
Balanitis can also happen if a person has uncontrolled diabetes or as a side effect of certain medications prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes. Some medications work by flushing out sugar out of the body in the urine. Because of this sugar creates a breeding place for yeast to grow.
Injuries on the tip of the penis or foreskin can also cause irritation and swelling. Other causes of irritation include the use of scented soaps used to clean the area, use of bar soaps that dry out the skin, and the use of lotions or sprays on the penis.
Also note that some laxatives, sleeping pills, painkillers, and antibiotics can cause balanitis as a side effect. This is called a fixed drug eruption.
Other causes of balanitis include:
- reactive arthritis
- uncontrolled diabetes
- sexually transmitted infections like syphillis, trichomonas, and gonorrhea
See your doctor for proper medications if you are experiencing the following:
- redness and itchiness on the skin
- tightness on the foreskin
- a thick, lumpy discharge under the foreskin with unpleasant smell
- painful urination
- swollen glands near the penis
- sores on the skin
Skin conditions can also trigger balanitis. These include:
LICHEN PLANUS – a skin disease characterized by small, itchy, pink or purple spots on the legs and arms
ECZEMA – a long-term skin condition that causes itchy, red and cracked dry skin.
PSORIASIS – a disorder wherein the skin gets dry and scaly.
DERMATITIS – an inflammation caused by direct contact with an irritant or an allergic reaction.
Types of Balanitis
ZOON’S BALANITIS – inflammation of the head of the penis and the foreskin. This condition affects middle-aged men who are uncircumcised.
CIRCINATE BALANITIS – A type that occurs as a result of reactive arthritis.
PSEUDOEPITHELIOMATOUS KERATOTIC AND MICACEOUS BALANITIS – characterized by scaly, wart-like skin lesions on the head of the penis.
Doctors perform the following tests to diagnose balanitis:
- Serum glucose test
- lab tests of any discharge
- tests to check for sexually transmitted disease
Treatment depends on the severity of balanitis, and the prescription usually comes as cream or ointment. Usual prescribed medications include antibiotics, antifungal cream (if it was caused by candida yeast) and steroid creams.
To prevent infections, keeping the head of the penis and the foreskin clean and dry is key. The area should be washed thoroughly and gently with warm water. Soap may irritate, so it should be avoided. For men who tend to develop balanitis after sex should wash their penis after engaging in sexual activity.