Balanitis: Myths & Misconceptions
Frequently attributed to inadequate hygiene, balanitis is a penis irritation that affects 1 in every 25 boys and 1 in 30 uncircumcised males at some point in their life. And while proper hygiene is one way to prevent the condition, it's not always enough.
Any man or boy can get balanitis, but it particularly affects uncircumcised men: The area beneath the foreskin and the penis tip are especially prone to balanitis infections.
Symptoms of balanitis include swelling and redness of the foreskin and penis head, and sometimes painful and itchy skin. Balanitis can stem from an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast, but it can also be caused by inflammation due to infections or chronic skin conditions.
Despite how common balanitis is, or perhaps because it's so common—roughly 10 percent of the male population will encounter it firsthand, according to the Cleveland Clinic—myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition persist. We debunk them here.
Myth: Balanitis outbreaks can always be blamed on improper hygiene.
Reality: Not always. While it's true that the challenge of properly cleaning underneath the foreskin can and does frequently lead to balanitis outbreaks, the irritation also can be traced to myriad other sources, including:
- Injuries to the tip of the penis or foreskin
- Not drying the penis head and foreskin adequately after cleaning
- Not changing underwear frequently enough
- Certain medications, such as laxatives, antibiotics, sleeping pills and painkillers
- Reactive arthritis
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis
Myth: Obsessively cleaning the penis and foreskin can prevent balanitis.
Reality: In some cases, cleaning can cause balanitis, or at least make it worse.
Proper hygiene is indeed the first line of defense when it comes to balanitis. However, depending on what you're using to clean your penis and foreskin and how you're going about it, you can actually make the condition worse or cause more balanitis outbreaks. Avoid these cleaning complications, which can cause balanitis outbreaks to occur or get worse:
- Failing to thoroughly rinse off soap
- Using scented soaps
- Using a harsh bar soap or body wash
- Applying scented lotion or sprays to your penis
Get in the habit of cleaning under your foreskin daily using a gentle, antibacterial soap and taking the time to rinse and dry the area thoroughly, and you'll have a much happier penis.
Myth: Balanitis is a single condition with one underlying medical cause.
Reality: This condition can stem from several different precursory conditions. Balanitis can be caused by bacterial or yeast overgrowth, an injury or an allergic reaction. Each one requires a specific type of treatment cream or other medication, so to ensure you get the proper medication, it's important to see your doctor if you suspect you have balanitis.
You also may be able to treat balanitis using over-the-counter medications. To relieve the swelling and irritation, try a sitz bath using Epsom salts. Sit in just a few inches of warm water infused with Epsom salts a couple of times a day, as needed.
Low-dose steroid creams such as hydrocortisone can help relieve the itching and are available over the counter, as are antifungal creams, but be sure to get one that contains clotrimazole, nystatin or terbinafine.
Note that if home treatments fail to eliminate the balanitis symptoms within two weeks, you should make an appointment with your doctor right away.
Myth: Balanitis is annoying but never serious.
Reality: Left untreated, balanitis can cause serious complications. Human genitalia and the area around it are pretty sensitive, so it's crucial to promptly take care of any infections or irritations—balanitis included—to avoid complications. Balanitis complications may include:
- Scarring of the opening of the penis
- Difficulty urinating and chronic discomfort
- Retraction of the foreskin becoming painful
- Reduced blood flow to the penis