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Common Questions - Balanitis

How can I tell what has caused my balanitis?

Balanitis is a skin irritation on the head of the penis (glans) that can be caused by an infection, allergic reaction, or an underlying skin condition.

If you have balanitis, you may be able to identify the cause by looking closely at your lifestyle and existing medical conditions.

For example:

  • if you do not wash under your foreskin, urine and sweat can collect there and irritate the head of the penis
  • chemicals that directly or indirectly come into contact with your penis, such as soap, latex condoms, lubricants or washing powders can also cause balanitis
  • if you are sexually active, sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhoea may lead to balanitis
  • sometimes, bacteria and yeast that naturally live on the skin can multiply and cause an infection that leads to balanitis. This is more likely if you have diabetes, phimosis, or if the head of your penis is already irritated
  • skin conditions, such as psoriasis, can sometimes cause balanitis

Can balanitis be transmitted?

Balanitis can be transmitted if it is caused by an infection, like a sexually transmitted infection or thrush. If this is the case, you will usually need to avoid having sex until the infection has been treated.

Balanitis that isn't caused by an infection cannot be transmitted.

Speak with your doctor to find out if the cause of your balanitis can be transmitted.

Is balanitis itchy?

Yes, an itchy penis is a common symptom of balanitis. Other symptoms of the condition include:

  • redness, swelling, and soreness around the head of the penis
  • an unpleasant odour
  • thick discharge under the foreskin
  • pain when peeing
  • a tight foreskin that won’t pull back (phimosis)
  • a rash or ulcers

Can you masturbate with balanitis?

If you have balanitis, rubbing very hard on your penis may irritate it further and make your symptoms worse. It may be best to abstain from masturbation until your skin has had time to heal.

Can balanitis be transmitted orally?

If the balanitis is caused by a sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, you may pass it on if you receive oral sex before you have been fully treated.

Can balanitis cause cancer?

Repeated episodes of infective balanitis (usually in those with phimosis) may increase your risk of developing some types of penile cancer. This is because recurring infections can weaken your immune system.

In rare cases, an early form of skin cancer that causes inflammation of the end of the penis can be mistaken for balanitis.

Does balanitis go away without treatment?

Many things can cause balanitis, so you should always see your doctor or go to a sexual health clinic if you think you have the condition. If balanitis is caused by an infection, it is unlikely to go away on its own. You may need treatment with antibiotics, creams or ointments to treat any infection and calm the irritation.

How do you treat balanitis in children?

Most cases of balanitis in children are easily treated with good hygiene and by using creams and ointments recommended by your doctor. The exact treatment will depend on the specific cause of balanitis.

You should clean the child’s penis daily with lukewarm water and gently dry it. Take care to:

  • avoid pulling back the foreskin to clean under it if it's still fixed
  • change the child’s nappies frequently
  • avoid using baby wipes to clean their penis
  • use a barrier cream after every nappy change

You may need to avoid irritants if balanitis is caused by an allergy. Irritants can include washing powders, fabric softeners, soaps, baby wipes, and any chemicals that may be on your hands when you change or wash the child.

What antibiotic is used for balanitis?

If a bacterial infection caused your balanitis, your doctor may prescribe a seven-day course of an antibiotic tablet called amoxicillin. This is a type of penicillin, so if you have a penicillin allergy, erythromycin or clarithromycin may be prescribed instead.

In some cases, you may be given an antibiotic cream, such as metronidazole or clindamycin.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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