Overview

Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans (head) of the penis. It is a common condition that can affect males of any age but is more frequent in uncircumcised men and boys. Balanitis can be caused by infections, poor hygiene, allergies, or chronic skin conditions. Prompt treatment is essential to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications.

The term ‘balanitis’ is derived from the Greek word ‘balanos,’ meaning ‘acorn,’ reflecting the anatomical shape of the glans penis. Historically, balanitis has been recognized for centuries, with descriptions found in ancient texts. Over time, increased understanding of hygiene, microbiology, and dermatology has improved the management and treatment of this condition.

Causes

Balanitis can be caused by various factors, including:

Infections: Bacterial, fungal (especially Candida), or viral infections.

Poor Hygiene: Inadequate cleaning of the genital area can lead to the buildup of smegma, increasing the risk of infection and inflammation.

Allergic Reactions: Reactions to soaps, lotions, or other personal care products.

Chronic Skin Conditions: Conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or lichen planus.

Diabetes: Higher sugar levels in urine can promote the growth of yeast, leading to infection and inflammation.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing balanitis:

  • Uncircumcised Status: Much more common in uncircumcised males due to the accumulation of smegma under the foreskin.
  • Poor Hygiene: Lack of proper cleaning of the genital area.
  • Diabetes: Higher risk of infections and inflammation.
  • Use of Irritating Products: Personal care products that irritate the skin.
  • Sexual Activity: Increased risk of infections and irritation.

Complications

If left untreated, balanitis can lead to several complications:

Phimosis: Tightening of the foreskin, making it difficult to retract.

Paraphimosis: Foreskin that is retracted and cannot be returned to its normal position, causing swelling and restricted blood flow.

Recurrent Infections: Chronic balanitis can lead to repeated infections.

Scarring: Permanent changes to the skin of the glans or foreskin.

Prevention

Preventing balanitis involves good hygiene and avoiding potential irritants:

  • Regular Cleaning: Wash the genital area daily with warm water and mild soap.
  • Proper Drying: Ensure the area is completely dry after washing.
  • Avoid Irritants: Use gentle, hypoallergenic soaps and avoid scented lotions or products.
  • Safe Sexual Practices: Use protection and maintain sexual health to reduce the risk of infections.
  • Manage Diabetes: Keep blood sugar levels under control to prevent infections.

Symptoms

When to see a doctor