Balanitis (Inflammation of the Head of the Penis)

Medically Reviewed on 4/19/2023

What is balanitis (inflammation of the head of penis)?

Balanitis treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Balanitis treatment depends on the underlying cause.

Balanitis is an inflammation of the skin of the head of the penis (glans penis). If the foreskin is involved as well, it is referred to as balanoposthitis.

What causes balanitis?

Balanitis is usually found in uncircumcised males.

  • Poor hygiene can contribute when the area under the foreskin is not washed regularly and bacteria, skin, and sweat accumulate.
  • Some underlying medical conditions can also increase the risk of balanitis, especially diabetes mellitus.
  • Allergies to certain chemicals can cause allergic balanitis. This could be chemicals in soaps or other products in touch with the glans of the penis.
  • Certain infections (especially yeast infections) can cause balanitis.
  • Reactive arthritis (formerly Reiter syndrome) is associated with inflammation around the head of the penis (circinate balanitis).

Balanitis is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD); however, it can have similar symptoms (for example, itching and redness). 

What are the signs and symptoms of balanitis? Is it painful?

Usually, the most common signs and symptoms of balanitis include the following:

  • Redness or mild swelling
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Irritation or pain on or around the penis

An odorous discharge can accompany these symptoms.

How is balanitis diagnosed?

A healthcare professional will usually be able to diagnose balanitis based on asking the patient questions (history) and physical examination. No additional tests are usually necessary.

If a doctor suspects that the balanitis is caused by an underlying medical condition, the patient might require blood tests.


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Which medications treat balanitis?

First, the underlying cause is determined and the treatment is directed against the reason for the condition.

  • If there is an infection, the appropriate antifungal medication can be used.
  • If it is a hygiene issue, daily habits are changed. Young boys may require instruction on how to retract and clean their foreskin.

The optimal medications will depend on the underlying cause of the balanitis. For example, doctors will prescribe a topical antifungal cream if a Candida infection is present, or an antibiotic if cellulitis is suspected. In refractory or repeated situations, the doctor might suggest circumcision as a possible way to prevent further infections by eliminating the overlying foreskin.

Which home remedies or OTC medications soothe pain and treat balanitis?

Switching soaps or other possible offending irritants can be helpful. Other times, the doctor will prescribe oral or topical medications.

What is the prognosis for balanitis?

The prognosis of balanitis is generally good.

Can balanitis be prevented?

The risk of balanitis can be reduced with proper hygiene, but not all balanitis can be prevented depending on the underlying cause. Circumcision has been advocated as a way of preventing or reducing the risk of balanitis in patients who had multiple episodes.

Medically Reviewed on 4/19/2023

Fakjian N, Hunter S, Cole GW, Miller. An argument for circumcision. Prevention of balanitis in the adult. J. Arch Dermatol. 1990 Aug;126(8):1046-7.

Herzog LW, Alvarez SR. e frequency of foreskin problems in uncircumcised children. Am J Dis Child. 1986 Mar;140(3):254-6.