Balanitis (pronounced: bal-uh-ny-tis) is an inflammation of the tip of the penis, known as the glans area. It is a common condition that affects boys and men of all ages and most frequently appears in those who are uncircumcised, and/or who are diabetic.
If you notice that the tip of your penis is red or has a blotchy rash, you may have a case of balanitis. You may also notice a whitish discharge, or your penis may feel itchy and uncomfortable (but not necessarily). If you are uncircumcised, you may be unable to retract the foreskin. In extreme cases, men with balanitis have difficulty urinating or controlling the urine stream.
Visit your family doctor if you suspect you have balanitis. This is particularly important if you are diabetic, because the balanitis may be a signal that your blood sugar is out of control. Your doctor is likely to recognize balanitis immediately, but may want to confirm the diagnosis by taking a culture swab from around the glans.
Balanitis has multiple causes. Typically, it is caused by suboptimal hygiene in uncircumcised men and arises from an overgrowth of one of a variety of organisms that live on the skin, mainly Candida albicans (which causes vaginal yeast infections in women). If inadequately cleaned, the warm, moist folds of an uncircumcised male's foreskin become a hospitable site for such organisms to thrive.
Balanitis can also be due to fungal or viral infection sexually transmitted. In addition, it can develop from an irritation to the skin (irritant dermatitis) triggered by soap, detergents, or spermicidal jelly.
The most common underlying condition associated with balanitis is diabetes, because uncontrolled blood sugar reduces the body's ability to fight infection. Less frequently, conditions such as penile cancer, congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, or morbid obesity underlie its appearance.
Following an appropriate cleaning regimen and controlling any underlying condition, such as diabetes, is the first step toward preventing an episode of balanitis. If you are uncircumcised, retract the foreskin daily and clean the glans penis with mild soap and warm water. If the cause of your balanitis has been traced to the soap you use, eliminate the soap and just use water in your daily cleaning.
If the balanitis in an uncircumcised male is chronic and associated with phimosis (an abnormal tightness of the foreskin preventing retraction over the glans), then the doctor may recommend circumcision. If a yeast infection has been determined to be the cause, then your pharmacist or doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal cream such as clotrimazole (e.g., Canesten™). For a bacterial infection, an antibiotic cream such as bacitracin (e.g., Baciguent™) can be obtained over-the-counter.