Posthitis is a medical term that refers to inflammation of the foreskin on the penis. It is most often caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, though inflammation and irritation may also occur because of physical trauma or excessive rubbing on clothes. Most instances of posthitis are accompanied by balanitis, which is an inflamed, irritated glans penis. The condition can affect males of all ages, though it is most common in boys under the age of ten, whose foreskins cannot fully retract. Doctors usually treat posthitis with prescription oral antibiotics and topical creams to reduce pain and inflammation.
Inflammation can occur when bacteria or fungi like yeast get trapped underneath the foreskin. This is often due to poor hygiene, though some men are more prone to developing infections than others due to faulty immune systems. The foreskin of an individual under the age of ten is usually not able to retract completely, so thorough cleaning is often not possible. Sexual activity can lead to posthitis as well, especially if a man's partner is suffering from an active yeast infection or a sexually transmitted disease. Occasionally, tight-fitting clothing or trauma to the penis results in irritation that develops into posthitis and balanitis.
The symptoms of the condition may include mild to severe pain, discomfort when urinating, and erectile dysfunction. A serious viral or bacterial infection may cause a person to feel nauseated and fatigued as well. In many cases, the symptoms of posthitis can be treated at home by taking extra care to wash the foreskin and glans penis with mild soap and water, wearing loose clothing, and taking over-the-counter medications to relieve discomfort. Anyone experiencing severe or persistent symptoms should visit his doctor to determine the exact cause of the condition and obtain the best treatment.
A doctor usually performs a physical examination, asks questions about a patient's medical history, and takes blood and urine samples to test for underlying conditions. If the cause is found to be bacterial, the physician may prescribe oral antibiotics and suggest routine cleaning of the area with mild soap. A fungal infection may require the application of topical anti-fungal creams, which eliminate fungus and provide relief from inflammation and pain. Individuals who seek treatment usually experience full recoveries in less than one month.
Doctors often encourage people who are prone to inflammation to take careful preventative measures. These may involve avoiding sexual contact with individuals who have infections or contagious diseases, maintaining good hygiene, and scheduling regular appointments with a dermatologist or urologist. A doctor may suggest circumcision if preventative measures and treatments are ineffective at providing long-term relief.
Is Posthitis Dangerous?
Posthitis is not a life-threatening condition. The intensity and length of the infection depend on the cause of the posthitis. If the posthitis is caused by an STI, it may last longer and affect more than just the genitals. On the other hand, if the cause is external, such as a latex allergy, it could clear up soon after using antihistamines.
When Should I Seek Medical Treatment?
Upon noticing swelling, redness, and pain in the genital area, a man’s first step should be basic hygiene practices and over-the-counter creams and medicines. He should start by cleaning the area with soap and water. Then, he should invest in a hydrocortisone or Benadryl cream.
Keeping up with his hygiene routine, he should keep up with the cream for a week. If it has not cleared up by then, he should seek medical advice.
Other reasons to seek medical help during posthitis include worsening symptoms, bleeding, or frequently reoccurring posthitis.
What Would a Doctor’s Visit for Posthitis Look Like?
Once a person decides to get medical advice for his posthitis, the doctor will perform a physical examination. The doctor might decide to swab the infected area to investigate further what type of infection is affecting the area. The doctor might also call for a urine test to see if the patient has bacteria in his urine.
After the doctor has determined that it is posthitis, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics, antihistamines, or another medication depending on the cause of the infection. The infection should clear up within the week, or a still symptomatic man should return to the doctor.
Does Diabetes Cause Posthitis?
While diabetes does not directly cause posthitis, it does increase the risk of penile infections like posthitis and balanitis. This increased risk comes from the heightened blood sugar that accompanies diabetes. The sugar leaves the body through the diabetic’s urine, and if that urine stays on or under the foreskin, it can cause infection. The glucose on the skin may hasten the growth of bacteria.
Thus, diabetes does not cause infection in the penis, but it might make the environment right for the infection to thrive.
What Conditions Are Similar to Posthitis?
Penile infections are pretty common among uncircumcised men. Here are some other conditions that one might deal with that are similar to posthitis:
Balanitis is the inflammation of the head of the penis. This can go alongside posthitis. There are a few different types of balanitis.
These include Zoon’s balanitis, which is the most common type. It causes a swollen and red penis head. The next type is Circinate balanitis, which is characterized by a swollen and red penis, plus the presence of sores on the head of the penis. Micaceous balanitis is the final and least common type. It often occurs in men over 60 and causes scaly warts on the penis.
Balanoposthitis is the combination of balanitis and posthitis. This causes swelling of the head of the penis and the foreskin.
Phimosis is when the foreskin is so tight that it cannot go over the head of the penis. This condition is common in young boys, as the foreskin loosens with age. Since the foreskin is too tight to pull back to clean, phimosis can lead to posthitis. However, posthitis is generally not a severe condition.
This is a condition similar to phimosis, but with more concern. Paraphimosis is where the foreskin is pulled behind the head of the penis and is stuck there. If one is suffering from paraphimosis, one must seek medical help immediately.
Does Circumcision Help Posthitis?
Circumcision both helps fix posthitis as well as prevents it. After removing the foreskin, there is nowhere for bacteria to hide. For bacteria to grow, it needs a damp, warm, dark environment. The skin around the foreskin is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. A person without this foreskin can easily keep their penis clean and without bacteria.
Many parents choose to have their babies circumcised at birth for health or religious reasons. However, adult men may also choose to be circumcised. It makes the area easier to keep clean, lowers the risk of STIs, and helps prevent injury.