What is Balanitis?

Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis. If both the head of the penis and the foreskin are inflamed, this is called balanoposthitis.

Balanitis can occur at any age. However, you are more at risk if you:

  • Are uncircumcised
  • Have been using antibiotics for a long period of time
  • Have diabetes
  • Are overweight
  • Have a condition, or are taking medication that affects your immune system
  • Have poor personal hygiene

A man in jeans holding his crotch against a yellow background.
Dr Clair Grainger

Medically reviewed by

Dr Clair Grainger

Last reviewed: 19 Nov 2019

What Causes Balanitis?

Balanitis can have a number of different causes. In young boys or uncircumcised men, it most commonly occurs due to a build-up of smegma. This is a substance secreted from under the foreskin. If the penis is not kept clean, smegma can build up, become infected and cause irritation. This can also commonly occur if you have phimosis, a condition where your foreskin is too tight, making it difficult to roll it back for washing.

Balanitis can also be caused by:

  • Candida, a fungus infection that causes thrush in men
  • Bacterial infection, usually from streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Sensitivity to soaps or detergents
  • Allergic reaction to rubber, spermicides or other substances that come in contact with the skin of your penis
  • Rough handling, that can leave the penis sore and open to infection

What Are the Symptoms of Balanitis?

Symptoms of balanitis can include:

  • Redness, swelling, soreness, or itching of the head of the penis or foreskin
  • Pain during urination or sex
  • A thick, white, lumpy discharge
  • A rash on the penis
  • A foul smell

What is the Treatment?

Balanitis is not a serious condition. However, as some of the symptoms are the same as some sexually transmitted infections, it is important to visit your GP or sexual health clinic to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment will then depend on what the underlying cause is.

In all cases, you should keep your penis clean and dry by thoroughly washing it with warm water at least once a day. Avoid using soaps which may irritate the skin.

  • If your balanitis is caused by a fungal infection, it should be treated with an anti-fungal cream, which is applied daily for at least two weeks. Alternatively, your GP may prescribe an antifungal tablet.
  • If your balanitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your GP will prescribe a course of of antibiotics.
  • If your balanitis is caused by a skin condition, such as psoriasis, or other skin irritation rather than an infection, your GP can prescribe a topical corticosteroid. This is a steroid cream or ointment that should be applied to the head of your penis once a day until your symptoms have cleared up. It should not be applied for more than 14 days, as it can cause a thinning of the skin.
  • With all of these treatments, you should see an improvement in your symptoms within 7 days. If this doesn’t happen, see your GP again. They may need to carry out further tests or refer you to a specialist. If your balanitis is caused by an allergy, your doctor can arrange a test to identify what is causing the allergic reaction.

Although balanitis itself is not contagious, some of the underlying causes, such as STIs, fungal or bacterial infections are contagious. If your partner has a yeast infection, such as thrush, it is important that you both get treated to avoid re-infecting each other.

If you have a tight foreskin (phimosis) and often suffer from balanitis, your GP may recommend a partial circumcision (removal of some of your foreskin) to help alleviate the condition.

Can I Have Sex if I Have Balanitis?

If your balanitis is caused by a skin irritation rather than an infection then it is fine to have sex while you are treating it, although you may experience penis pain. However, if your balanitis is caused by a fungal infection or sexually transmitted infection, you should avoid having sex during your treatment because you could transmit the infection to your partner.

How Can You Prevent Balanitis?

The best way to prevent balanitis is to practice good penis hygiene. To keep your penis clean, you should:

  • Wash your penis at least once a day, gently but thoroughly, making sure to fully pull back the foreskin.
  • Avoid using soaps that may irritate the skin.
  • Make sure the head of your penis is completely dry before replacing your foreskin.
  • Make sure the tip of your penis is dry and free from urine after using the toilet.
  • If you develop balanitis after sex, make sure to wash your penis after intercourse.

You can also reduce your chances of developing balanitis if you avoid irritants. This can include soaps and detergents, latex condoms if you are allergic to latex, lubricants and creams.

If you have a child who wears nappies, it is important to change their nappy regularly, as the warm, wet conditions can increase their risk of developing balanitis.

Balanitis can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can reduce your chances of getting an STI by:

  • Using a condom every time you have sex.
  • Using a condom or a dam (a thin square of latex used to cover female genitals) during oral sex
  • Using a condom or a dam (a thin square of latex used to cover female genitals) during oral sex
  • Not sharing sex toys


Are Sex Toys Safe?. NHS [accessed 30 March 2020]

Balanitis (2018). NICE [accessed 30 March 2020]

Balanitis. NHS [accessed 30 March 2020]

Dental Dams. Brook [accessed 30 March 2020]

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