Balanitis and Your Love Life: What You Can Do About It

You’ve probably heard about yeast infections through your wife or your girlfriend.  They’re uncomfortable, itchy, and really put a damper on your love life.  All you can do is wait for them to go away.  But, did you know that men can get a similar yeast infection?  It’s true.  It’s called balanitis and I’d like to tell you more about it.      

For Guys Only – What Is Balanitis?

Balanitis is a kind of catch-all phrase for inflammation, or irritation, of the head of the penis that you may get a few days after sexual intercourse.  It’s usually accompanied by soreness and redness around the tip of the penis, intense itching at the site, and a thick, lumpy white discharge – similar to the discharge women get with yeast infections.  It can also cause painful urination and create an unpleasant smell.  Other systemic, or general, symptoms may include overall tiredness and dilated pupils.

Balanitis typically affects uncircumcised males, especially those with phimosis – a too-tight foreskin.  Inadequate hygiene of the overlying foreskin can allow this area to collect a lot of bacteria.  Balanitis does occur in circumcised males, though not as often, but the infection becomes more internalized to the urethra.

Complications from balanitis can include a condition called balanitis xerotica obliterans – a chronic dermatitis most often involving the glans and the foreskin.  It can also lead to a tightening of skin around the tip of the penis, which can cause discomfort, or affect the blood supply to the tip of the penis.  Left untreated, chronic balanitis could even lead to cancer.

What Causes Balanitis?

You may not have heard of balanitis, but it affects about 11% of adult males in the United States.  Most commonly, it is caused by a Candida-like yeast infection.  This is transferred to you through sexual intercourse with a partner who has a candidal yeast infection.  Yeast and bacteria can collect around the head of the penis and the upper most, inner part of the urethra, and multiply quickly.

There are also other causes of balanitis which have to do with external irritants or medical conditions.  They include:

  • Ammonia from urine. This is more common in small boys still in diapers, but could also occur in older men with urine incontinence problems.
  • Spermicides, lubricants, or other chemicals, in condoms.
  • Detergents and/or perfumed soaps or body washes, that are not completely washed off.
  • Fabric softener residue on your underwear that rubs against your skin and irritates
  • Diabetes. Higher blood sugars encourage the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria throughout the body.
  • Herpes, syphilis, chlamydia infections can also cause balanitis.

Treatment for Balanitis

To treat balanitis, you first need to see your family doctor, or urologist, who can accurately diagnose it.  Simply examining the skin around the top of the penis is usually all it takes.  Your doctor may also do a urine or blood test to look for sugar.  Some men find out they have diabetes when they get balanitis infections.  Depending whether your infection is Candida-based (yeast) or bacterial, or related to an irritant or a sexually transmitted disease, will determine how you are treated and how long your condition may last.

For yeast (Candida) infections, you will likely be prescribed an antifungal cream, with the same ingredients in it (miconazole or clotrimazole) that your wife or girlfriend gets for her yeast infection.  You might also be given a one-dose yeast infection pill to take.  If you did get the infection from sexual intercourse, it’s important to also have your partner treated at the same time to prevent spreading the infection back and forth.  During treatment, you should forego sexual intercourse or use a condom. Usually, a yeast-based balanitis can be greatly improved within 24 hours after starting antifungal cream applications.  It can be completely gone in about 72 hours, or slightly longer, depending on the severity of it.

For bacterial infections that include chlamydia and syphilis, you will be given an antibiotic like erythromycin or penicillin.  If your infection is associated with another STD, it may take between 7-10 days to see complete relief of it.

In certain types of balanitis cases (Zoon’s balanitis), laser treatment with a CO2 laser, or Er-Yag laser, may be used.  Your urologist will determine which type you have and which treatment is appropriate.

For chemical irritants, removing the source of irritation is necessary along with, perhaps, anti-inflammatory, anti-itch creams.

If you’re uncircumcised, your doctor may recommend circumcision as a means to cut down on future balanitis infections.

What You Can Do To Prevent Balanitis

Maintaining good hygiene, especially after unprotected sexual intercourse, can help prevent balanitis infections.  After sex, you should wash your entire genital area with a mild soap and warm water.  If you are uncircumcised, be sure to wash under the folds of skin to get rid of trapped bacteria.  Other things you can do:

  • Abstain from unprotected sex with your partner if she has a known yeast infection.
  • Try switching to dryer fabric softeners versus liquids in the end wash.
  • Use only a very mild, or non-perfumed, soap on your genital area such as Ivory, Dove, or olive oil soap.
  • Watch your diet.  Limiting/omitting refined sugars can help prevent balanitis infections.  If you get an infection, you can help get rid of it faster by completely omitting any refined sugar and high sugar fruits for a few days until the infection subsides.
  • If you work with chemicals, or get your hands very dirty during your work, be sure to wash your hands completely before urinating.  You can transfer irritants on your hands, as well as bacteria and yeasts from dirt, to your penis and urethra during urination.

Balanitis can be a very uncomfortable and embarrassing condition to endure. It can cause intense itching and your clothes simply rubbing against your skin can cause pain. Taking a few precautionary steps in your everyday life to prevent getting one of these conditions can ensure that you maintain good physical health as well as a healthy love life!

Stay Well,
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.

What is Balanitis? http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/184715.php

Balanitis, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000862.htm

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