Balanitis is an inflammation of the end of the penis (the glans). Often the foreskin also becomes inflamed at the same time as the glans. (The foreskin is the loose skin that covers the glans if you haven’t been circumcised.)

Balanitis is common and can occur at any age. It most commonly affects boys under 4 years of age and also men who have not been circumcised. Around one in 25 boys and one in 30 uncircumcised men are affected with balanitis at some point in their lives. It is very rare in men who have been circumcised.

The most common symptoms include redness, irritation, and pain at the end of the penis (the glans). It can range from a small patch of redness confined to part of the glans skin surface, to the entire glans becoming red, swollen and painful. Sometimes there is a thick, thick discharge that comes from under the foreskin.

It may be impossible to remove the foreskin. You may also have pain or discomfort when urinating.

There are many different causes of balanitis and poor hygiene is one of them.

Poor hygiene around this area, combined with a tight foreskin, can lead to irritation from smegma. Smegma is a cheese-like substance that forms under the foreskin if the end of the penis (the glans) is not cleaned under the foreskin. This is the most common cause of balanitis.

Infection – not sexually transmitted

Various germs (bacteria) that live on the skin in small numbers can multiply and cause infection. A common cause of infection is with a yeast called candida. Candida is the same germ that causes vaginal thrush in women. A small number of candida commonly live on the skin and can sometimes cause infection.

Some types of bacteria are also a common cause of balanitis. Any man or boy can develop an infection. However, a glans infection is more likely to develop if you:

  • You already have some swelling of the penis due to an allergy or irritant.
  • You have diabetes. Particularly if your diabetes is not well controlled and your urine contains sugar. After going to the bathroom, urine droplets containing sugar can remain behind the foreskin and allow germs to multiply easily.
  • Have a phimosis. This is a condition where the foreskin does not recede (retract) over the glans. This is common in children. After the age of 5, the foreskin usually retracts easily so that the glans can be gently cleaned. You are more likely to develop balanitis if you have phimosis, as sweat, debris, and urine can collect under the foreskin. This can directly irritate, or it can encourage bacteria to thrive and cause infection.