Balanitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Long-Term Outlook

Inflammation of the foreskin is known as balanitis. The condition usually affects men and children who are uncircumcised. It’s typically not serious, but it can be painful, and there could be complications. Here’s what you need to know about balanitis.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 14, 2020

What causes Balanitis - Men's Health - 1MD

The head of the penis is called the foreskin, and inflammation of the foreskin is known as balanitis. This condition occurs in 1 in 20 men, on average, and mostly affects those who are uncircumcised. 

Inadequate cleaning of the genital area and chronic skin conditions can cause balanitis, but for the most part, it is not very serious. Inflammation and discomfort can usually be treated with topical medications.

Balanitis Causes

Poor hygiene and chronic skin conditions contribute to balanitis, as a result of an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. You can clean too much, which removes the beneficial bacteria on your skin, and you can also not clean enough. 

Both circumstances will result in bacterial overgrowth and skin irritation. Scented soaps and cleansers, bar soap that dries out the skin, and not rinsing the soap completely after showering can also irritate the sensitive skin. 

The skin disorders most commonly linked with balanitis are eczema, lichen planus, and psoriasis.

In addition to these factors, other causes of balanitis can include:

♦ Use of some laxatives and painkillers
♦ Reactive arthritis
♦ Uncontrolled diabetes
♦ STIs, such as syphilis and gonorrhea

Balanitis Symptoms

Swelling and redness are the most common symptoms of balanitis, but you may also experience any of the following:

♦ Itchy genitals
♦ Painful skin on the penis
Penile discharge
♦ Tightened foreskin
♦ Unpleasant smell
♦ Redness around the glans
Painful urination
♦ Balanitis Diagnosis

A physical examination is done first to diagnose balanitis, as most of the symptoms are visible.

If there is any discharge, your doctor will likely take a swab sample to check for bacterial and fungal cells. A urine sample may be taken for more detailed analysis and to rule out other conditions. 

In cases where a chronic skin condition is a cause, a biopsy will be done to examine a piece of skin for the disease. 

Treatment for Balanitis

Once diagnosed with balanitis, it is important to stop using scented soaps, lotions, and powders immediately. The penis should be cleaned only with warm water until the irritation has gone. 

You will also be prescribed an anti-itching medication to help with discomfort and inflammation. If there is an infection present, you will need to follow a course of antibiotics to help clear it out. 

Medicated creams with steroids can also be used to help reduce inflammation. This is especially useful in cases where balanitis is triggered by an allergic response. If the infection becomes recurrent, then more serious measures need to be taken, such as a surgical procedure. 

Balanitis Diet

There is no diet that you can follow that will prevent balanitis or treat the condition, but adding certain foods can help support the natural bacteria living in your body. When this bacterial community is strong, it is better able to fight against infections that can trigger balanitis. 

Regularly eating yogurt helps to promote the growth of positive bacteria, which can keep harmful strains under control. Garlic is also known to have strong antifungal properties and can be consumed to help fight infections like balanitis. 

Natural Treatments for Balanitis

Outside of medications and ointments, there are a few natural remedies you can try at home to relieve and treat balanitis.  

Tea tree oil: This oil has many healing properties, and it also acts as a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent. When applied around the foreskin, it can help relieve itching and irritation and clear away harmful bacteria causing the inflammation.

♦ Apple cider vinegar: The smell might bother you, but apple cider vinegar has been proven to be an effective antifungal agent. If it burns, then be sure to mix it with some water before applying to the foreskin.

Coconut oil: Coconut oil is used to naturally heal many ailments and has been shown to work effectively against bacterial agents known to cause balanitis.

Complications of Balanitis

If left untreated, balanitis can result in several uncomfortable conditions, including painful foreskin retraction, inadequate blood supply to the penis, and allergic dermatitis and scarring. 

Chronic balanitis can result in phimosis, which is a condition where the foreskin does not retract. When this happens, surgery is the only option and can include either circumcision or cutting a slit along the foreskin to separate it from the penis.

In most cases, thorough cleaning can clear the infection up, but medicated creams can also be used to help relieve itching and discomfort. 

Types of Balanitis

There are three main types of balanitis:

Zoon’s balanitis: This is when inflammation of the head of the penis and the foreskin occurs, and this usually appears in middle-aged men that are uncircumcised.

Circinate balanitis: This type occurs as a result of reactive arthritis.

Pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis: This more advanced type is characterized by wart-like and scaly lesions on the head of the penis. 

Balanitis Statistics

♦ 1 out of 25 boys under the age of 4 develops balanitis.
♦ 1 in 30 uncircumcised males acquires balanitis at some point in their lifetime.
♦ Balanitis is diagnosed in 2.3 percent of circumcised men and 12.5 percent of uncircumcised men.
♦ Sexually transmitted diseases increase the risk of developing balanitis.

Balanitis and Children

Boys under the age of four are most susceptible to balanitis, especially if they are uncircumcised. This is believed to be the highest risk group for the condition. 

The symptoms in boys include itchiness and soreness, as well as foul smells around the penis. It is important for young boys to begin practicing good hygiene to prevent the accumulation of bacteria and balanitis. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

There are complications to untreated balanitis beyond chronic discomfort. In most cases of balanitis, the symptoms resolve themselves within a few days, and medications and prescribed creams can help reduce recovery time. 

In cases where balanitis is left untreated, it becomes more difficult to treat, and scarring can occur within the sensitive tissue on your penis. You can easily prevent balanitis with proper hygiene. If it does develop, the outlook is better the sooner you seek treatment.

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