Last updated:

Reviewed by:

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

A condition in which the head of the penis becomes inflamed. Read about the signs of balanitis and how it’s treated.

What is balanitis?

Balanitis is a condition where the head of the penis becomes inflamed, making it swollen, red and sore. 

Sometimes it affects the foreskin, which is called posthitis. If it affects the penis and foreskin, it’s called balanoposthitis. 

There are a wide range of causes of balanitis, so it’s important to see a GP who will do some tests to find out what is causing it. 

What are the symptoms of balanitis?

Common symptoms of balanitis include:

  • A rash on the head of the penis

  • Tenderness or pain around the head of the penis

  • Itchiness or redness around the head of the penis

  • Pain when you pee or have sex

  • Discharge or bleeding around the foreskin

How common is balanitis?

Balanitis affects between 3 to 11% of men. It’s more common in men who have not had their foreskin removed.

What causes balanitis?

Balanitis can be caused by:

  • Bacterial infections such as streptococcus or chlamydia

  • Fungal infections such as yeast (candida balanitis) – these can be passed on from your partner during sexual intercourse

  • Viruses such as HSV 

  • A skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis

  • Previous trauma

  • Poor hygiene

  • A reaction to certain cleaning products or soaps

How is balanitis diagnosed?

A doctor will ask you some questions about what symptoms you have and some more general questions about your health and then will examine your penis.

Other useful investigations include:

  • Swabbing the area around the tip of the penis to see if any bacteria or viruses are present

  • Testing for sexually transmitted infections – your doctor could ask for a urine sample or blood test

  • Testing for diabetes – people with diabetes are at a greater risk of balanitis. This is done using a blood test

Treatments for balanitis

The treatment of balanitis will depend on the underlying cause:

  • Antifungal creams are used to treat cases caused by fungal infections

  • Antibiotics are used to treat cases caused by bacteria

  • A steroid cream is used in cases cause by a skin infection or a reaction to cleaning products

  • Other treatments include regularly washing the area with warm water and avoiding using cleaning products on the penis. 

If balanitis is not treated, it can lead to conditions called phimosis or paraphimosis. Phimosis is where the foreskin becomes tight and cannot be pulled back over the penis. Paraphimosis is a condition where the foreskin strangles the penis and cuts off its blood supply. Paraphimosis is an emergency, and it is important to seek immediate medical treatment. 

Balanitis in children

Balanitis is also common in children, in particular uncircumcised boys under the age of 5. Balanitis occurs in about 4% of boys between the ages of 2 to 5. Causes in this age group include:

  • Irritation by urine

  • Excessive tugging of the foreskin or soaps

  • Poor hygiene

  • Bacterial or fungal infections

  • Skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis

Treatment in children is similar to adults – in most cases, good hygiene using warm water and avoiding soaps around the area will help. In some cases, steroid creams or antifungal creams are helpful. In very rare cases of persistent, recurring balanitis, a doctor might recommend circumcision.

When should I seek help?

You should see a GP or visit a sexual health clinic if you have any symptoms of balanitis as it’s important to find out what’s causing it. 

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
undefined, Lead GP at Livi