Prevent Balanitis with Basic Hygiene
Balanitis, the special bane of uncircumcised men, will at one point or another affect about 1 in 20 males, according to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. It's true that this annoying infection, which causes redness and soreness around the head of the penis, can also affect circumcised men, but not as often. The unique configuration of unaltered foreskin and the moisture, heat and darkness it promotes between the foreskin and the glans (penis head) create an ideal environment for fostering infection.
Once you've contracted balanitis, you can't simply wish or wash it away. It's not particularly dangerous unless you leave it untreated, but you need to see a doctor to get diagnosed and receive proper treatment. Outbreaks can be triggered by a few different underlying causes, including a bacterial infection or a fungal growth, each of which requires different treatment.
Symptoms & complications
The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting balanitis in the first place. Some simple hygiene habits and other preventive measures are highlighted below, but first, know what symptoms you're looking for in case you do get infected:
- A bad odor
- Sores or bleeding around the foreskin
- White, shiny skin on the penis
- Difficulty retracting the foreskin
Again, balanitis isn't a terribly dangerous infection. If you experience any symptoms, however, don't hesitate to get tested right away, because there is overlap between symptoms for balanitis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Left untreated, balanitis can also cause complications you'd do well to avoid, including:
- Narrowing of the urethra
- Scarring of the penis opening
- Urine retention
- Urine backflow into the kidneys
- Chronic foreskin pain when retracting it
- Reduced blood supply to the penis
- Erectile difficulties
Prevent balanitis with proper hygiene
From the time they're old enough to understand the importance of cleaning, uncircumcised boys are generally taught to keep their foreskin and penis clean. It's important to note, however, that uncircumcised penises aren't inherently dirty, or dirtier than circumcised ones. Instead, an uncircumcised penis simply presents a unique hygiene challenge.
Surprisingly, excessiveness on either end of the hygiene scale—cleaning too much or not enough—can trigger an outbreak of balanitis. Here are a few of the widely understood underlying causes that can set it off:
- Failing to thoroughly rinse off soap after a shower
- Using soaps that are scented or perfumed
- Using harsh, drying soap (e.g., bar soap)
- Using scented sprays or perfumed lotions on your penis
Balanitis outbreaks can be caused by other triggers, such as certain laxatives, antibiotics, sleeping pills and painkillers, so consult your doctor about side effects if you are prescribed any such medications. It can also be triggered by reactive arthritis, diabetes and certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
But hygiene is usually the culprit when balanitis appears. To avoid it, try these simple tips:
- Gently retract your foreskin and clean underneath it with warm water.
- Use a mild soap and avoid all-in-one shower gels or harsh soaps.
- Dry your penis completely and thoroughly after showering.
- Avoid using scented soaps on your penis.
- Don't use body sprays or scented lotions on your genitals.
- Don't rush. Build in some extra time for foreskin hygiene every day, and make a habit of it.
A few other habits to cultivate to avoid balanitis include washing your hands before and after you urinate, washing your penis after having sex, making sure the condoms you're using fit properly and aren't irritating your skin, and not having sex if you have balanitis symptoms.
While balanitis does affect some 5 percent of men at some point in their life, you can reduce your chances of contracting it by following simple hygiene and lifestyle choices. Better to take a little extra time cleaning than to deal with a red, irritated, angry penis, right?