Updated: Nov 28, 2018
Author: Mark J Leber, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Erik D Schraga, MD 


Practice Essentials

Balanitis is inflammation of the glans penis[1]  and is a common condition affecting an estimated 3-11% of males. Balanitis can occur in males at any age. Morbidity is associated with the complications of phimosis.[2, 3, 4] Balanitis involving the foreskin and prepuce is termed balanoposthitis. According to European guidelines outlining the current management of balanoposthitis, the aims of management are to minimize sexual dysfunction and  urinary dysfunction, exclude penile cancer, treat premalignant disease, and diagnose and treat STIs.

Predisposing factors include poor hygiene and overwashing, use of over-the-counter medications, and nonretraction of the foreskin.[5]  Though uncommon, a complication of balanitis (usually only in recurrent cases) is constricting phimosis, or inability to retract the foreskin from the glans penis. Other complications of balanitis may include meatal stenosis and possible urethral strictures; urinary retention; and vesicoureteral reflux.

Balanitis xerotica obliterans (BXO), or penile lichen sclerosus, is a progressive sclerosing inflammatory dermatosis of the glans penis and foreskin. BXO is uncommon in children.[2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

Uncircumcised men with poor personal hygiene are most affected by balanitis. Lack of aeration and irritation because of smegma and discharge surrounding the glans penis causes inflammation and edema. Though uncommon, complications of balanitis include phimosis and cellulitis. Meatal stenosis with urinary retention may rarely accompany balanitis. In very few cases, balanitis may contribute to the "buried penis syndrome." Diabetes is the most common underlying condition associated with adult balanitis.[11, 12, 13]  Older age has been identified as a risk factor for candidal balanitis. Zoon’s balanitis is a disease of older men who are uncircumcised.[5]

If the patient is able to retract the foreskin and does not have uncontrolled diabetes, he may be discharged to follow up with a urologist.

Bacitracin should be used for children, and clotrimazole in adults, and possibly a steroid cream.

(See the image below of balanitis xerotica obliterans.)

Balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus). Balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus). Courtesy of Wilford Hall Medical Center Slide collection.

For additional information, see Medscape's Urology Resource Center.

For excellent patient education resources, visit eMedicineHealth's Men's Health Center. Also, see eMedicineHealth's patient education articles Foreskin Problems and Circumcision.




Patients with balanitis usually present with the following complaints:

  • Penile discharge

  • Pain or difficulty with retraction of foreskin

  • Impotence

  • Difficulty urinating or controlling urine stream (in very severe cases)

  • Inability to insert a Foley catheter

  • Tenderness and erythema of the glans penis

  • Itching

  • Systemic symptoms such as fever and nausea are uncommon


Observe the patient with balanitis for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Signs of sepsis

  • Uncontrolled diabetes

  • Inability to retract foreskin

  • Inability to urinate


Physical examination findings may include the following:

  • Erythema and edema of glans penis or foreskin

  • Foul odor

  • Discharge

  • Ulceration and/or plaques

  • Phimosis (uncommon)

  • Signs of urinary obstruction (rare)

    • Meatal stenosis

    • Bladder distension

    • Ballooning of the foreskin when voiding

  • Lymphadenopathy


Diabetes is the most common underlying condition associated with adult balanitis.[11] In a study of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, treatment with dapagliflozin (2.5 mg, 5 mg, or 10 mg once daily) was found to be associated with an increased risk of vulvovaginitis or balanitis, related to the induction of glucosuria. According to the authors, events were generally mild to moderate, were clinically manageable, and rarely led to discontinuation of treatment. For dapagliflozin 2.5 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg, infections were reported in 4.1%, 5.7%, and 4.8% of patients, respectively, as compared to 0.9% in patients with type 2 diabetes who were given placebo.[14, 15]

Other causes include the following[16] :

  • Poor personal hygiene

  • Chemical irritants (eg, soap, petroleum jelly)

  • Edematous conditions, such as congestive heart failure (right-sided), cirrhosis, and nephrosis

  • Drug allergies (eg, tetracycline, sulfonamide)

  • Morbid obesity

Several organisms and viruses cause balanitis, including the following:

  • Candidal species (most commonly associated with diabetes)

  • Group B and group A beta-hemolytic streptococci

  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae

  • Chlamydia species

  • Anaerobic infection

  • Human papilloma virus

  • Gardnerella vaginalis

  • Treponema pallidum (syphilis)

  • Trichomonal species

  • Borrelia vincentii and Borrelia burgdorferi

Balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus) is a chronic dermatosis identified by whitish plaques involving the glans and foreskin (shown in the image below).[2, 3, 17]

Balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus). Balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus). Courtesy of Wilford Hall Medical Center Slide collection.

Zoon balanitis is a reddish velvety lesion on the glans.[18, 19, 20]  It is typically found in older, uncircumcised males. It can be asymptomatic or pruritic or may cause dysuria.[21]

Reiter disease consists of circinate and eroding lesions on the glans.


Complications of balanitis may include meatal stenosis and possible urethral strictures; urinary retention; and vesicoureteral reflux.

In a study of 250 patients after circumcision for balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus), approximately 20% required a subsequent operation for meatal stenosis. According to the authors, precircumcision topical steroids may help decrease this rate of subsequent meatal pathology. They added that submission of the foreskin for histologic analysis should always be considered, because the prognosis differs for lichen sclerosus and nonlichen sclerosus histology. Those patients with balanitis xerotica obliterans who later underwent meatal procedures rarely underwent a meatal procedure at circumcision and were less likely to have received preoperative topical steroids, as compared to patients who did not need a subsequent meatal procedure.[22]



Differential Diagnoses



Laboratory Studies

Laboratory studies for uncomplicated balanitis are not typically necessary but may include the following, when clinically appropriate:

  • Serum glucose test (as part diabetes screening)

  • Culture of discharge

  • Syphilis serology test

  • Wet mount

  • Potassium hydroxide (for Candida)

  • HIV and human papilloma virus titers in selected cases

Ultrasonography or bladder scan is used to detect urinary obstruction in severe balanitis.



Emergency Department Care

Patients presenting with balanitis but without phimosis should receive the following recommendations and treatment[5, 23] :

  • Gentle retraction of the foreskin daily and soak in warm water to clean penis and foreskin.

  • In pediatric patients and patients with mild balanitis xerotica, a 2-month trial of antifungals may be attempted; the patient or mother should retract the foreskin gently and apply 0.05% betamethasone twice a day. This applies to children older than 3 years. Success is seen particularly in male children older than 10 years compared with those aged 3-10 years. Success ranges from 65-95%.

  • Topical steroids have had only limited success in patients with moderate-to-severe balanitis xerotica obliterans. These patients are more likely to have distal scarring of the foreskin.

  • In recurrent cases, 1% pimecrolimus cream was used instead of steroids, with a 64% success rate.[24]

  • Apply bacitracin (not Neosporin) for pediatric patients if bacterial infection is suspected.

  • Apply topical clotrimazole for adult men with probable candidal balanitis.

  • Obtain a culture of discharge in complicated cases such as those with associated cellulitis, then treat empirically with appropriate antibiotics (typically first-generation cephalosporin).

  • A study of 1185 boys concluded that fluticasone proprionate 0.05% was effective and safe in treating associated phimosis, with successful results in 91.1% of patients.[25]

Patients presenting to the ED with phimosis and severe urinary obstruction as a complication of balanitis should receive the following care (recommended that surgical intervention be performed by a urologist, if available):

  • Steroid cream and gentle retraction of the foreskin, if the phimosis is not too tight, may be used before surgery is contemplated.[26, 27]

  • Without damaging the glans penis, dilate the foreskin using a clamp. If the glans penis is adherent to the foreskin, the procedure may be contraindicated. Local anesthesia, analgesia, and/or sedation may be required.

  • Perform a dorsal slit incision by cutting the foreskin over the dorsal shaft of the penis to enlarge the foreskin opening. This procedure requires local anesthesia and, possibly, sedation.

  • Perform a formal circumcision (preferably in the operating room).[28, 29]

  • Circumcision is not a preventive treatment of balanitis in those younger than 3 years.

Consult a urologist if a dorsal slit incision or circumcision is contemplated.

Deterrence/prevention of balanitis includes the following measures:

  • Proper personal hygiene

  • Control of diabetes and other chronic medical disorders

  • Weight reduction for patients who are obese

Medical Care

If the patient is able to retract the foreskin and does not have uncontrolled diabetes, he may be discharged to follow up with a urologist.

Circumcision should only be suggested, if the patient fails outpatient conservative therapy, particularly in children.

Patients should receive the following instructions:

  • Topical therapy - Bacitracin in children and clotrimazole in adults and possibly a steroid cream

  • Education - Improve personal hygiene by retracting the foreskin daily and cleaning the glans penis with water




Guidelines Summary

European guidelines have been published regarding management of specific balanitides[5] :

  • Candidal balanitis: clotrimazole cream 1%; miconazole cream, 2%; apply twice daily until symptoms resolve.
  • Anaerobic infection: metronidazole 400-500 mg twice daily for 1 wk.
  • Aerobic infection: trimovate cream applied once daily; erythromycin 500 mg qds for 1 wk; co-amoxiclav 375 mg 3 times daily for 1 wk.
  • Lichen sclerosus: ultrapotent topical steroids such as clobetasol proprionate applied once daily until remission, then gradually reduced.
  • Lichen planus: moderate to ultrapotent topical steroids depending on severity.
  • Zoon balanitis: circumcision; topical steroids with or without antibacterials applied once or twice weekly.
  • Psoriasis: moderate-potency topical steroids with or without antibiotic and antifungal.
  • Eczema: hydrocortisone 1% applied once or twice daily until resolution of symptoms.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: antifungal cream with a mild to moderate steroid.
  • Bowenoid papulosis: imiquimod 5% cream; laser resection.
  • Premalignant conditions: surgical excision.
  • Nonspecific balanoposthitis: circumcision is curative.




Medication Summary

The goal of balanitis therapy is to eradicate infection and prevent complications.

Antimicrobial agents (topical)

Class Summary

Therapy must cover all likely pathogens in the context of the clinical setting.

Clotrimazole topical (Mycelex, Lotrimin)

Broad-spectrum antifungal agent that inhibits yeast growth by altering cell membrane permeability. For adult use, especially those with a positive history of candidiasis in a sexual partner.

Bacitracin (AK-Tracin)

Prevents transfer of mucopeptides into growing cell wall, which inhibits cell wall synthesis and bacterial growth. More commonly used in pediatric patients or patients who are not sexually active.

Corticosteroids, topical

Class Summary

These agents have anti-inflammatory properties and cause profound and varied metabolic effects. Corticosteroids modify the body's immune response to diverse stimuli.

Betamethasone 0.05% (Alphatrex, Diprolene, Maxivate)

For treatment of inflammatory dermatoses responsive to steroids. Decreases inflammation by suppressing migration of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and reversing capillary permeability. Affects production of lymphokines and has inhibitory effect on Langerhans cells.

Immunosuppressant agents

Class Summary

Regulates key factors responsible for the immune response.

Pimecrolimus (Elidel cream)

First nonsteroid cream approved in the US for mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis. Derived from azcomycin, a natural substance produced by fungus Streptomyces hygroscopics var. ascomycetous. Selectively inhibits production and release of inflammatory cytokines from activated T-cells by binding to cytosolic immunophilin receptor macrophilin-12. The resulting complex inhibits phosphatase calcineurin, thus blocking T-cell activation and cytokine release. Cutaneous atrophy was not observed in clinical trials, a potential advantage over topical corticosteroids. Indicated only after other treatment options have failed.


Questions & Answers