Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans (head) of the penis.
It usually causes redness and/or a blotchy rash on the glans and inside the foreskin, sometimes with a discharge or odour. Balanitis may be itchy or uncomfortable but often feels normal.
Why balanitis occurs
Balanitis is not sexually transmitted. Men do not ‘catch’ balanitis from women with vaginal thrush, or vice versa.
Balanitis results from excessive growth of organisms which are normally present on the skin of the glans.
The condition usually occurs in men who have a foreskin (ie have not been circumcised). The environment under the foreskin is warm and moist, and these conditions favour growth of organisms that cause balanitis. This may be more likely to occur if you have not washed for a couple of days, or sometimes after sexual activity (vaginal, oral or anal – with or without a condom).
A common organism associated with balanitis is a yeast called Candida albicans. Balanitis can result from overgrowth of Candida, but it is important to remember that Candida is normally present under the foreskin in small quantities. In normal amounts, it doesn’t cause any problems and does not require treatment.
Sometimes there are underlying conditions, for example diabetes or skin conditions, that make balanitis worse.
Management of balanitis
The aim of treatment is to keep the area clean and dry to make it difficult for organisms to grow under the foreskin.
Medication (cream or ointment) is rarely necessary, and is usually less effective than good hygiene. Partners do not require treatment unless they have symptoms. If this happens, they should consult a doctor to find out the cause of their symptoms and the best treatment.
Once a day, ideally when you have a shower, slide your foreskin back towards your body until the glans is completely uncovered. Do not use any force. If there is any resistance or discomfort, check with a doctor.
Because Candida and other organisms are normally present under the foreskin, it is possible for men to experience further episodes of balanitis. There is no treatment to permanently ‘cure’ balanitis or eradicate the organisms that cause it. If you experience repeated attacks of balanitis despite adequate foreskin hygiene, consult your doctor.