Penile Discharge Is a Messenger, But of What?
Urine and semen. We expect both of these substances to emerge from our penis. However, unwanted penile discharge in any capacity is a frightening thought. But the good news is, in most cases, it's largely treatable.
"Usually, it's a short-term thing associated with gonorrhea or chlamydia and treatable with antibiotics," said Rodrigo Pagani, M.D., assistant professor of urology at the University of Illinois Chicago.
In layman's terms, the penis can discharge a clear, watery substance or something thicker and green/yellow in color, depending on the specific medical condition. The former is typical of a chlamydia infection, while the latter usually signals gonorrhea, and the two infections appear together about 25 percent of the time, according to Pagani. Both are caused by bacteria transferred through vaginal, oral or anal sex, and can affect men who have sex with either women or men.
The bacteria typically colonize in the urethra. Pagani said he usually orders testing of the discharged substance to confirm the presence of the infection, and directs the best treatment plan from there. He added that even if a patient isn't symptomatic, it's important to get tested because both diseases can be transferred between partners.
Discharge as a sign of prostate issues
Less commonly, penile discharge may be a sign of inflammatory prostatitis, which could potentially become a chronic issue.
"Often, confirming it is a bacterial issue is more advantageous because that is completely treatable with antibiotics," said R. Robert Dhir, M.D., a Houston urologist and the founder of HTX Urology. "If the symptoms are due to nonbacterial inflammation, my focus then shifts more to helping control symptoms, as there is no cure to this condition."
If the condition is nonbacterial and more of an ongoing issue, Dhir said he'll begin to look at a patient's overall lifestyle and potential adjustments to reduce flaring and symptoms.
"If it is inflammatory prostatitis, symptoms can wax and wane, and I counsel patients to avoid certain behavioral triggers. This includes reducing alcohol and tobacco use, managing stress and avoiding certain foods containing high levels of spice or acidity," he said.
Prostatitis can appear in men of any age, and Dhir said it's not uncommon to see it in men in their 20s and 30s. If any associated pain appears as more of a pelvic floor problem, then physical therapy, local heat therapy and relaxation exercises may help ease the pain.
Penile discharge could be a sign of prostate inflammation not related to prostatitis, especially if it appears with burning urination, painful ejaculation or irritation of the perineum, the area between the scrotum and the anus. Usually, a rectal exam will confirm the prostate gland's condition.
In uncircumcised men, penile discharge can be a sign of an infection of the foreskin known as balanitis. A urologist will examine the area along with a sample of the discharge to determine the presence and severity of a potential infection. If an infection is confirmed and is recurrent, removal of the foreskin may be the next step if improved hygiene and other treatments don't eliminate the infection.
Good news: It's not dire
Men shouldn't stress when penile discharge appears, but they shouldn't ignore it, either, because prompt treatment makes the path to recovery much easier, both urologists said. Dhir added there aren't too many long-term complications, but untreated discharge can amplify the onset of urethritis, which can definitely make urination more difficult and painful.
The most important step to take is to have an open and honest conversation with your urologist about your recent sexual history and any symptoms you've experienced.