Affecting 1 in 20 males, balanitis is medically defined as the swelling of the foreskin or head of the penis that usually occurs in uncircumcised patients.
Although it is not considered to be a serious condition, balanitis can be painful and uncomfortable which is why the patient has to seek medical treatment at some point.
What is Balanitis?
The common causes of balanitis
Balanitis can be caused by an infection or skin condition in the penile area, which is usually traced back to poor hygiene. When there’s an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the foreskin due to the trapped moisture around the penile head, this causes the area to be red and swollen causing discomfort and pain to the affected individual.
In rare instances, an injury to the tip of the penis or foreskin can cause balanitis.
Balanitis due to poor hygiene
Irritation due to poor hygiene and bad practices is still the main cause of balanitis. This includes using scented or bar soaps to clean the penile area, not rinsing the soap completely off the penis after showering or washing and using scented sprays and lotions on the genital area.
Balanitis could be a side effect
Balanitis could also be a side effect to medications like sleeping pills, painkillers, antibiotics and laxatives, a condition called fixed drug eruption. Other causes of balanitis include sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, trichomonas and syphilis, reactive arthritis and uncontrolled diabetes.
The symptoms of balanitis
While redness and swelling are the most common symptoms of balanitis, patients may also experience discharges, itchiness in the gential area, tightened and painful foreskin, and pain in the genitals. If not addressed properly, balanitis could also lead to painful urination due to the swelling putting pressure on the urethra.
Tests to diagnose balanitis
Once a patient decides to seek medical treatment, the doctor usually conducts a physical examination first to see if the symptoms felt are related to balanitis. If there are any discharges, the doctor then orders a swab together with a urine test to see the presence of bacteria or fungi, which may be causing the problem.
If a skin condition is causing the swelling, a doctor may do a biopsy where a small piece of tissue is collected from the penis for examination. A patient is usually given local anesthesia to make sure the procedure is not painful and uncomfortable.
The treatment for balanitis
If you are experiencing any signs of pain in your genitals you should first seek professional medical advice. Self diagnosis can be dangerous and cause further problems or even long lasting issues.
If you do have balanitis, you should keep the effected area clean while discontinuing the use of all scented soaps, lotions or powders that could be causing the irritation or aggravating it. To make washing comfortable, warm water could be used to reduce the swelling.
Once the diagnosis is done, the doctor will most likely prescribe an anti-itch cream and antibiotic or antifungal medication if there is an infection. In some cases, medicated creams with steroids could be prescribed to treat the inflammation.
Balanitis can sometimes last for several years and if the discomfort becomes too much, regular or extreme, in some cases balanitis may also be cured by circumcision, which offers a more permanent resolution.