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Foreskin swelling can be a symptom of phimosis, paraphimosis, or balanitis. There are a number of factors that can cause or contribute to swelling of the foreskin, including infection, poor hygiene, contact dermatitis, and sexual activity. Foreskin swelling doesn't always require treatment, but it can, in some cases, constitute a genuine medical emergency. Swelling of the foreskin affects only uncircumcised men and boys.
One of the most common types of foreskin swelling is phimosis, which occurs most often in infants and boys. In phimosis, the foreskin becomes so swollen that it cannot be pulled back over the head of the penis, or glans. Poor hygiene and infection, including yeast infection, are among the top causes of phimosis, especially in infants and children. Phimosis can also occur after sexual intercourse or masturbation. Phimosis is not generally considered a medical emergency, but it can cause problems with urination. Phimosis sometimes goes away on its own, but if symptoms do not resolve within 12 to 24 hours, medical care is usually advised.
Paraphimosis is considered a far more serious condition and immediate medical treatment is usually recommended for this problem. Paraphimosis occurs when the foreskin gets stuck in a retracted position, and cannot be pulled back down over the glans. Paraphimosis is generally considered a medical emergency, since the swollen, retracted foreskin can cut off the blood supply to the glans. Without treatment, paraphimosis can lead to gangrene in the penis, and the penis may need to be amputated. Paraphimosis most often occurs after sexual intercourse, masturbation, or erection. It can also occur due to poorly executed circumcision, injury to the foreskin or glans, or use of urinary catheters.
Balanitis is an irritation of the foreskin that can cause foreskin swelling. Poor hygiene can contribute to balanitis, since it can allow bacteria to thrive under the foreskin. Yeast infections and sexually transmitted infections can cause balanitis, as can allergic reactions to soaps, spermicides, and fragrances. Dermatitis can also lead to balanitis, since it can leave the foreskin irritated. Symptoms other than foreskin swelling usually accompany balanitis, such as itching, discharge from the urethra, or a rash.