Alternative names

Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Balanitis is usually caused by poor hygiene in uncircumcised men. The inflammation can be due to a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, caustic soaps, or failure to properly rinse soap off while bathing. Several other diseases, including Reiter’s syndrome and lichen sclerosis et atrophicus, can also produce balanitis.


  • redness of foreskin or penis  
  • other rashes on the head of the penis  
  • foul-smelling discharge  
  • painful penis and foreskin

Signs and tests
Your dermatologist or urologist may be able to diagnosis the cause of your balanitis by examination alone. However, additional tests such as skin culture for viruses, fungi, or bacteria are often needed. Occasionally, a skin biopsy is required.


Treatment depends on the cause of the balanitis. For example, infectious balanitis may be treated with antibiotic pills or creams. Balanitis occuring with skin diseases may respond to steroid creams. In severe cases, circumcision may be the best option.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most cases of balanitis can be controlled with medicated creams and good hygiene. Surgery is not usually necessary. Outcomes are nearly always positive.


Chronic inflammation or infection can:

  • Scar and narrow the opening of the penis (urethral stricture)  
  • Make it difficult and painful to retract the foreskin to expose the tip of the penis(phimosis)  
  • Make it difficult to reposition the foreskin to cover the head of the penis (paraphimosis); swelling can affect the blood supply to the tip of the penis

Calling your health care provider
Notify your health care provider if you are experiencing any signs of balanitis including swelling of the foreskin or pain.

Good hygiene can prevent most cases of balanitis. During bathing, the foreskin should be retracted to adequately clean and dry the area beneath it.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.