Balanitis, or balanoposthitis, is inflammation of the head of the penis. The foreskin (the loose flap of skin that covers the head of the penis) is also often affected.
Balanitis is a common condition affecting both boys and men. It occurs more often in men who have not been circumcised.
Symptoms can include:
Some people may also have a tight foreskin that will not retract (pull back). This is called phimosis.
It's therefore important to visit your GP or a local sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic if you think you have balanitis.
You should also see your GP if your son has symptoms of balanitis.
Read more about diagnosing balanitis.
Skin irritation is the most common cause of balanitis in boys. This can occur because it's not always possible to pull back the foreskin fully at this age, leading to a build-up of a cheesy-looking substance called smegma that can irritate the skin.
Irritation by smegma is also a common cause of balanitis in uncircumcised men if the penis is not kept clean.
Other causes of balanitis include:
In some cases, no cause can be found.
Most cases of balanitis are easily managed with a combination of creams or ointments, good hygiene and avoiding substances that irritate the penis (see below).
These treatments will usually start to have an effect within a week and can be stopped after around two weeks, although in some people it does eventually come back after treatment.
A partial circumcision may sometimes be recommended for a small number of cases of recurring phimosis.
Read more about treating balanitis.
You can reduce your chances of developing balanitis by:
Babies and young children who still wear nappies should have their nappies changed regularly because the warm and moist conditions can increase their risk of balanitis.
Read more about preventing balanitis.