Balanitis is when the head of the penis is swollen and sore.
Balanitis is not usually serious but it's important to see a GP to find out what's causing it.
Check if you have balanitis
With balanitis, the head of your penis is usually:
- red, swollen, itchy and sore
Other symptoms can include:
- pain when peeing
- a thick discharge that comes from under your foreskin
- bleeding around your foreskin
- an unpleasant smell
- difficulty pulling back your foreskin – though in young children it's normal to have a tight foreskin
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you or your child have symptoms of balanitis
- treatment has not worked
Adults can also go to a sexual health clinic for assessment.
Sexual health clinics can help with balanitis
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment.
They'll often get test results quicker than GP practices.
During coronavirus, call a sexual health clinic if you need help or advice. Only go to a clinic if you've been told to.
What happens at your appointment
A doctor or nurse will look at your penis and ask you a few questions. They may also wipe a cotton bud over the head of your penis to test for infections.
If any treatment they prescribe does not work, the cause is unknown, or the infection is severe and thrush is present, a blood test may be suggested to check if you have diabetes.
Treatment for balanitis
Treatment for balanitis depends on what's causing it.
A GP may prescribe:
If you or your child keeps getting balanitis and medicine has not helped, circumcision (surgery to remove the foreskin) may be considered.
Things you can do if you have balanitis
wash your penis every day
gently pull back your foreskin and wash the area with warm water
dry gently after washing
if you use condoms, choose condoms for sensitive skin
wash your hands before peeing or touching your penis
do not use soap or shower gel but you could use an emollient (moisturising treatment)
Things you can do if your child has balanitis
gently wash your child's penis every day
use warm water and then dry it gently
if they wear nappies, change your child's nappies often
do not use soap, bubble bath or baby wipes
do not pull your child's foreskin back if it is fixed in place
Causes of balanitis
Causes of balanitis include:
- not washing your penis properly
- some young boys have a very tight foreskin (phimosis), which means they cannot pull it back to clean under it
- a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia – if a STI is suspected you may be referred to a sexual health clinic
- substances such as soap, shower gels or condoms may irritate the skin
- diabetes – high levels of sugar in your pee can cause thrush
Page last reviewed: 08 July 2020
Next review due: 08 July 2023