Balanitis and the Uncircumcised Man
One of the most common issues uncircumcised guys face is balanitis, which presents as redness, irritation, and swelling in the foreskin and the head of the penis. Balanitis affects roughly 1 in 20 uncircumcised males at some point in their life, causing not only pain and itching but sometimes also distress, since it can resemble a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Fortunately, balanitis is no cause for alarm, and with proper prevention, you can avoid it.
What is balanitis?
The foreskin can make great living quarters for various bacteria and infections. The underside of the foreskin, which covers the penis head, is dark, warm and moist, so it’s challenging to keep clean. When bacteria and yeast form in the folds of the foreskin and beneath it, balanitis often results.
Treated promptly, balanitis isn’t a particularly dangerous condition. It is, however, irritating and requires antibiotics or other treatments to eliminate, so uncircumcised men and boys should become familiar with the symptoms to get help quickly if needed.
Balanitis symptoms include the following:
- Swelling of the glans (penis head)
- Itching or pain around the affected area
- A foul odor
- A discharge from the penis
- Sores on the penis
- Issues retracting the foreskin
- Cracking or bleeding on the foreskin
If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away. If you leave it untreated, the inflammation will force the urethra to narrow and cause urine to push into your kidneys. Urine retention and reduced blood flow to your penis are also possibilities.
Causes & risks of balanitis
Given that balanitis can develop into dangerous complications, you should know why it occurs, so you can avoid it. As alluded to above, penis hygiene usually means the difference between contracting and not contracting balanitis.
There are other risk factors, especially for uncircumcised men over the age of 45:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia, herpes simplex virus or syphilis
- Eczema, psoriasis or other dry-skin conditions
- Sensitive skin
- Perfumed soap
- An allergic reaction
- A foreskin that’s hard to retract, as result of phimosis
If you suspect you may have contracted balanitis, be sure to see your doctor, who will want to get a sample of any discharge from your penis and check for STIs. They may also do bloodwork to check for diabetes as a cause.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with simple balanitis—that is, balanitis not caused by an STI or diabetes—the most likely treatment will involve an antifungal cream or a round of antibiotics in a pill or a cream. If the cause is determined to be an allergic reaction, your doctor will likely prescribe a steroid cream.
Some men are more susceptible to balanitis than others and can experience recurring bouts of it. In rare cases, your doctor might recommend circumcision.
With a little extra work in the hygiene department, you can likely avoid having to undergo any serious treatments or procedures for balanitis. Try one or all of the following three tips, to prevent balanitis.
1. Clean thoroughly & daily
Meticulously wash your foreskin and penis every day. Use a mild, non-perfumed soap and warm water. You also need to thoroughly dry the area afterward. Make a habit of daily, careful cleaning and drying, and you will be far along on the road toward balanitis prevention.
2. Use a condom
Always use a condom when having sex. The fluid exchange during unprotected sex combined with the friction and potential irritation can trigger balanitis.
3. Clean & dry after sex
Sex can be messy and that can contribute to balanitis. At the very least, dry your penis, even if you used a condom. Ideally, though, take a moment to clean your penis head and foreskin, and then dry it.
As an uncircumcised man, your chance of developing balanitis is undeniably higher than that of a circumcised man. However, that doesn’t make it an inevitability. Simple hygiene and caution go a long way to preventing discomfort and medical complications.