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A to Z: Balanitis

Balanitis (bal-uh-NIH-tus) is inflammation of the head of the penis (glans).

More to Know

The tip, or head, of the penis is called the glans. A number of conditions can cause the glans to become inflamed, including infections; certain diseases; injuries; and allergic reactions to medications, latex condoms, or harsh soaps.

The most common cause of balanitis, however, is poor hygiene in uncircumcised boys and men. If the uncircumcised penis isn't cleaned properly, a substance called smegma can build up between the foreskin and the glans and cause irritation and swelling. Smegma is a cheesy substance secreted by sebaceous glands in the skin of the male and female reproductive organs.

Balanitis can cause itching, tenderness, impotence, or pain or difficulty with urination (peeing). In some cases, balanitis also can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) or make it difficult to pull back the foreskin. This condition, known as phimosis, is more likely if balanitis lasts for a long time or keeps coming back.

Balanitis is usually treated with creams or medications designed to treat skin diseases and fungal infections. Balanitis caused by a bacterial infection may be treated with antibiotic medications.

Keep in Mind

Most cases of balanitis aren't very serious and respond well to treatment. If conservative treatments aren't effective in uncircumcised boys and men, circumcision will usually correct the problem. Balanitis often can be avoided with good personal hygiene and controlling other medical disorders that can increase the risk of inflammation.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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