We Have Questions: Balanitis
If the head of your penis is red, irritated, swollen and/or emitting a whitish discharge, you may have a condition known as balanitis. The good news is that the condition is not typically serious and is relatively easy to treat.
"Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans penis, which is the head of the penis," said Christopher C. Kyle, M.D., a urologist at the Oregon Urology Institute in Springfield.
Penis head inflammation can be caused by a number of factors, including irritation, bacterial infections and allergic reactions, but balanitis is most frequently caused by a fungal infection, according to Kyle.
Balanitis is more common in uncircumcised people, as the smegma—the oils, sweat and skin cells that accumulate around the genitals—can get trapped under the foreskin and contribute to the development of the condition.
The condition often occurs in men with diabetes—especially in "poorly controlled diabetes," Kyle noted—because high blood sugar can stimulate bacterial and fungal growth.
Balanitis also may occur in people who have been using antibiotics for a prolonged period, as this type of medication can cause an overgrowth of fungus.
To learn more about this common condition—it impacts an estimated 11 percent of men—Giddy interviewed Kyle about balanitis, its treatment and its prevention.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How is balanitis treated?
Kyle: Balanitis is treated based on its underlying cause. To figure out what's causing the condition, we start by examining the patient and looking at their medical history.
In some cases, balanitis is caused by irritation from a new soap or underwear. If irritation is thought to be causing the inflammation, we get the patient to change to a hypoallergenic soap or clothing that's less irritative.
If we think the balanitis is caused by a fungal infection, then typically we use an antifungal treatment. Usually it's a cream, sometimes it's an oral antifungal. In really severe cases, we'll do both an oral antifungal and a cream.
If you have balanitis, should you abstain from sexual activity and masturbating?
Engaging in sexual activities—either with a partner or with yourself—is unlikely to make the infection better or worse, but it may cause some discomfort and be a bit more irritating.
How can people prevent balanitis?
Especially if you are uncircumcised, the best treatment and prevention is hygiene. Make sure you're retracting the foreskin to wash with soap and water and remove any debris that's caught up there.
If you are diabetic, it's very important to have good control of your blood sugars. That's important for overall health but also for balanitis prevention.
Finally, make sure you get inflammation evaluated, especially if it doesn't resolve with time or treatment. So, for example, if you try to treat itchiness and inflammation yourself with cream and it doesn't go away, then it's critical to get evaluated by a doctor.