Balanitis is a skin irritation on the head of the penis that can affect men and boys.
It's not usually serious, but you should see your GP if you think you or your son has balanitis.
Symptoms of balanitis
Balanitis affects the head of the penis and the foreskin.
It occurs far more often in men and boys who haven't been circumcised.
- a sore, itchy and smelly penis
- redness and swelling
- build-up of thick fluid
- pain when peeing
Some adults may also have a tight foreskin that won't pull back. This is a condition called phimosis.
When to see a doctor
You should see your GP if you think you've got balanitis just to make sure it isn’t a sign of something more serious like a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
You can also get yourself checked out at a sexual health clinic.
Your GP should be able to tell if you have balanitis by looking at your penis and asking a few questions.
If treatment doesn't start to work within seven days, your GP may suggest some tests to see if there's an infection or something more serious.
If your GP isn't sure what's causing your balanitis, they may refer you to:
- a skin specialist called a dermatologist
- a urologist, who treats penis problems
- a sexual health clinic
Most cases of balanitis are easily treated with good hygiene and creams and ointments recommended by your GP.
If you have balanitis, you should clean your penis daily with lukewarm water and gently dry it.
- Don't use soap, bubble bath, shampoo or any other potential irritant.
- Dry gently under the foreskin after peeing.
- Try a soap substitute like an emollient, available from a pharmacy.
Cleaning a child's penis
- Don't pull back their foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed.
- If the child is still in nappies, change them frequently.
- Don't use baby wipes to clean their penis.
Find out more about how to wash a penis.
Creams and ointments
Depending on what's causing the balanitis, your GP may recommend creams or ointments, such as:
- steroid cream or ointment for a simple skin irritation
- antifungal cream or tablets for a yeast infection
- antibiotics for a bacterial infection
See your GP if the treatment doesn't start to work within seven days. You may need another treatment or be advised to see a specialist.
Circumcision may be advised in rare cases where a child keeps getting balanitis.
Sex and balanitis
You can have sex during treatment if your balanitis isn't caused by an infection.
But if it's caused by an infection, like an STI or thrush, there's a risk of passing this on.
Causes of balanitis
Balanitis can be caused by:
- poor hygiene, leading to a build-up of smegma
- irritation under the foreskin caused by pee
- soaps, shower gels, and other skin irritants
- a bacterial infection
- a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, and lichen sclerosus
- children fiddling with their foreskin
You can reduce your chances of getting balanitis by:
- keeping your penis clean
- avoiding harsh soaps and other skin irritants
- using soap substitutes, such as an emollient
- practising safe sex to avoid an STI
- using latex-free condoms if you have a latex allergy
Young boys may not yet be able to clean under their foreskin because it may not fully pull back yet.
Don't attempt to pull back a child's foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed, as this can cause damage.
Page last reviewed: 31 May 2017
Next review due: 31 May 2020