Balanitis is when the head of the penis is swollen and sore. It's 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 swollen, itchy and sore. It usually looks red, but this may be less obvious on brown or black skin.
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, such as the head of your penis being swollen, itchy, sore or red
- you or your child have balanitis and 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 surgeries.
What happens at your appointment
If you have symptoms of balanitis, a doctor or nurse will look at your penis and ask you a few questions.
If your symptoms are severe, they may suggest a blood test to check for conditions that can lead to balanitis, such as diabetes.
They may also wipe a cotton bud over the head of your penis to test for infections.
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 to help with balanitis
If you have balanitis
wash your penis every day using just water or an emollient (moisturising treatment)
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
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's 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: 30 May 2023
Next review due: 30 May 2026