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Balanitis

What is it and who can get It?

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Balanitis involves having an inflammation of the ‘glans’ section or end of the penis.  It may also be that the foreskin on uncircumcised men may also be inflamed.  The skin may be red, itchy, sore and swollen.  This condition is common and more likely to occur in uncircumcised men and in boys under 4 years old.

It is unlikely that the condition will be serious if somewhat uncomfortable

 

Symptoms of balanitis

As we mentioned above, the more common symptoms are tight, shiny skin on the glans, redness, itchiness, soreness and swelling but there may be other symptoms including pain during urination, bleeding around the foreskin, an unpleasant odour, thick discharge from under the foreskin (usually a build-up of smegma which is the normal secretion produced under the foreskin) and difficulty pulling back the foreskin.  It is worth noting at this point that it is normal for young children to have a tight foreskin.  There may also be swollen glands near the penis

 

Causes of balanitis

  • Poor hygiene leading to infection - if the area is not cleaned properly or regularly it can allow a build-up of smegma under the foreskin which can become infected.  This problem may be exacerbated if the foreskin is tight.

It is interesting that being too clean in this area can add to the irritation.

The penis is susceptible to yeast and bacterial infections as the area tend to be warm, and under the foreskin, in particular, it tends to be damp

  • Sexually transmitted infection - Some sexually transmitted infections can cause balanitis and an STI is more probable if there is also an inflammation of the urethra (a tube you urinate through) otherwise known as urethritis.  Infections that cause these conditions include gonorrhoea, genital herpes and chlamydia.

  • Allergies and irritants - As we know, the skin of the glans is particularly sensitive and so may have a greater tendency to become inflamed if some chemicals or irritants come into contact with it.  For example, if hygiene is poor there may be debris such as old skin, urine and sweat that can set up an irritation.  Other possible irritants include chemical found in perfumed soap, over washing, latex condoms and some washing powders or fabric softeners

  • Skin conditions - there are some skin conditions that can affect the penis that can either cause or be mistaken for balanitis such as psoriasis or less common conditions such as lichen planus and seborrheic dermatitis.

On a rare occasion, one of the early signs of skin cancer can present as irritation and for this reason, it would be advised that any inflammation of the penis is seen by a doctor as a precaution

 

Treatment and prevention of balanitis

It is always advisable to avoid soap when there is any irritation of the skin as it is likely to aggravate the situation.  It is best to use some form of emollient cream as a method of cleansing the area

Avoid using water that is too hot as again this would be likely to cause further irritation so stick to lukewarm water for cleaning and treat the area gently when drying.

Another suggestion which some people find helpful is to take salt baths while other forms of treatment are taking effect. 

The type of treatment will very much depend on the cause of the balanitis.  For instance, in the chase of a yeast or candida infection, your GP may prescribe anti-yeast cream or a course of anti-yeast tablets.

If the infection is bacterial and this will include some types of sexually transmitted infection then antibiotics will be prescribed.

If the balanitis is being aggravated by irritants or allergies to specific substances then a steroid cream can be given either alone or alongside the other treatments in order to help relieve the inflammation

Prevention of balanitis is down to common sense largely. Ensure that the penis is washed thoroughly every day using an unperfumed soap or just plain water.  Make sure that the area under the foreskin is clean and also ensure that the whole area is dried thoroughly afterwards.

If you are sensitive to latex condoms there are latex-free condoms available as well as condoms suitable for sensitive skin

Always try to make sure that you wash your hands before touching your penis.  This will avoid the possible transmission of infection from your hands as well as not exposing the area to any chemical or possible irritants that you may have been touching

Avoid sexually transmitted infection by always using a condom before a sexual encounter with a new partner

 

Sources

  1. Balanitis http://www.sexualhealthsheffield.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Balanitis.pdf
  2. Balanitis https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/balanitis/
  3. Balanitis https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/balanitis/
  4. Balanitis https://patient.info/mens-health/penis-problems/balanitis

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