Welcome to the OutUK series looking at gay men and their health brought to you in association with the NHS website.
Each week we'll tackle a different topic in our A to Z of Gay Health. We'll have features and advice on everything from relationships, sexual health, mental and physical conditions and how to stay fit. You can follow any of links provided below for more information direct from the NHS website, or view any of our Previous A to Z Features.
You should also know that OutUK has produced a special report about: Coronavirus Covid-19.

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This Week - B : Balanitis

Balanitis is when the head of the penis is swollen and sore. It's not usually serious but it's important to see a GP to find out what's causing it.

Check if you have balanitis

With balanitis, the head of your penis is usually swollen, itchy and sore. It usually looks red, but this may be less obvious on brown or black skin.

Other symptoms can include:

  • pain when peeing
  • a thick discharge that comes from under your foreskin
  • bleeding around your foreskin
  • an unpleasant smell
  • difficulty pulling back your foreskin - though in young children it's normal to have a tight foreskin

See a GP if:

  • you or your child have symptoms of balanitis, such as the head of your penis being swollen, itchy, sore or red
  • you or your child have balanitis and treatment has not worked

Adults can also go to a sexual health clinic for assessment.

Sexual health clinics can help with balanitis

Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals.

Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment.

They'll often get test results quicker than GP surgeries.

Find a sexual health clinic

What happens at your appointment

If you have symptoms of balanitis, a doctor or nurse will look at your penis and ask you a few questions.

If your symptoms are severe, they may suggest a blood test to check for conditions that can lead to balanitis, such as diabetes.

They may also wipe a cotton bud over the head of your penis to test for infections.

Treatment for balanitis

Treatment for balanitis depends on what's causing it.

A GP may prescribe:

If you or your child keeps getting balanitis and medicine has not helped, circumcision (surgery to remove the foreskin) may be considered.

If you have balanitis


  • wash your penis every day using just water or an emollient (moisturising treatment)

  • gently pull back your foreskin and wash the area with warm water

  • dry gently after washing

  • if you use condoms, choose condoms for sensitive skin

  • wash your hands before peeing or touching your penis


  • do not use soap or shower gel

If your child has balanitis


  • gently wash your child's penis every day

  • use warm water and then dry it gently

  • if they wear nappies, change your child's nappies often


  • do not use soap, bubble bath or baby wipes

  • do not pull your child's foreskin back if it's fixed in place

Causes of balanitis

Causes of balanitis include:

  • not washing your penis properly
  • some young boys have a very tight foreskin (phimosis), which means they cannot pull it back to clean under it
  • thrush
  • a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia - if a STI is suspected you may be referred to a sexual health clinic
  • substances such as soap, shower gels or condoms may irritate the skin
  • diabetes - high levels of sugar in your pee can cause thrush

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We'll have more information and advice next week on another topic in our A to Z of Gay Health. We have covered many subjects in this series and you can catch up with all of our Previous A to Z Features.

If you want to find out more about this week's subject you can visit the Original article on the NHS website. If you are worried by any aspect of your health make sure you go and see your doctor or book an appointment at your local clinic.

Photos: LightFieldStudios and one of VladOrlov, Stockcube, darak77, ajr_images or rawpixel.com.


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