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What Is Posthitis?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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

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

Balanoposthitis is the combination of balanitis and posthitis. This causes swelling of the head of the penis and the foreskin.

Phimosis

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.

Paraphimosis

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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1002370 — On Nov 09, 2019

I have been diagnosed with this, and also for a few months have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I am looking for the best treatment to clear and heal the posthitis. I have found it very sensitive. When dry it became very rough and sensitive and very itchy. But with the itching. I am worried about damaging the foreskin around the penis. It bleeds like a little leak after itching. Washing with warm water soothes it. But there's no right treatment cream. The best I have been told about Tarsal cream.

By anon995827 — On May 31, 2016

I have had the condition some little time. I am diabetic, and have found out that Invokana, which increases sugar excretion can have an effect of build up of sugar and yeast in the urine and trigger the condition. I will stop the Invokana for a period and monitor the results.

By anon995779 — On May 25, 2016

I am a 68 year old male, 6'7" tall and weigh just under 300 lbs and am in fairly good health. However, for about the last six years, my foreskin has been turning red, cracking and occasionally bleeding and when it does, it burns like mad.

It usually happens during sleep when a full bladder causes an erection (Nocturnal Penile Tumescence). Sex is out of the question and my wife and I haven't had intercourse in a few years (fortunately, neither of us has much of a libido).

A very small bit of the foreskin has actually healed onto the base of the glans, which aggravates the problem during an overnight erection.

I've tried keeping the area clean and have used neosporin to keep it from becoming more infected, but the issue persists. If anyone has any ideas as to how I can treat this condition, I would appreciate the input.

By anon941469 — On Mar 23, 2014

I have had the same issue for several months and applied anti-fungal spray and steroid cream without seeing improvement. Finally, I managed to control it by just pulling the foreskin over and letting the penis glans dry (after bath, I wipe with tissue), and it recovered very soon. There was no need apply medicine. The moisture and warmth is the cause of infection.

By Bisexualman — On Mar 10, 2014

I've suffered with Posthitis a few times and the cause was always the same: .wearing sports shorts with a nylon mesh lining as underwear which caused excessive rubbing and irritation of the foreskin. While wearing them I did not feel any rubbing, however after removing them, my penis felt sore and the last inch of my foreskin was crusty and sore and especially sore and red if I got an erection.

The cure was rubbing Cannestan cream onto the foreskin three times daily which after application, relieves the sore feeling and eventually the condition. I'd also recommend not pulling the foreskin back until it's nearly healed and washing the penis head by inserting a finger inside the foreskin with mild soap and rinsing with clean water.

By anon344643 — On Aug 11, 2013

I've been having foreskin infections recurring at random for 40 years. I went to the doctor for the first time, and was given pills. Whatever they were, they didn't help, but in desperation (skin was breaking down and bleeding) I coated it with Tincture Merthiolate. It stung like hell, but cured the infection within two days. I used that for years when needed, and it always worked.

Finally, the Tincture Merthiolate ran out and could not be replaced. Again in desperation, I tried Clearasil. It definitely helped, but another product, Acnomel (sulphur 8 percent, resorcinol 2 percent) works better. I'm just getting over one of the worst cases yet. The skin was breaking down and bleeding, as usual, but Acnomel cured it in two days. What kind of infection am I having? Is it always the same? I have no idea, but in my case, this over the counter acne cream works. Oh, and yes, I retract the skin and wash it daily, keep it very clean, yet every few months, there's another infection. Wish to God I had been circumcised as an infant.

By anon304545 — On Nov 20, 2012

So no masturbation then. Wish someone told me. I've had this going on two/three months now, but I had a blister which has gone now. It's just red and inflamed on the head and the foreskin. I also have trouble pulling the foreskin back all the way like I could before while erect.

My doctor prescribed me steroid cream, but was concerned it could be an STD and mentioned the GUM clinic. I told him I had not had sex recently, and am always protected (common sense really) which is true. I do not go anywhere without a fresh condom in my wallet.

I left it untreated for a month, then used clotrimazole for a month which helped clear the blistering, but not the redness.

I must also add the rim of the helmet is a little bit swollen and used to be purple, but the clotrimazole helped with that.

So it seems masturbation has not helped me with healing. I just want it gone so I can have sex again soon.

By ElizaBennett — On Jun 19, 2012

People mention the possibility of this kind of an infection as a reason to have your sons circumcised. But to me, this seems like serious overkill! Can you think of any other body part that you would remove from a *healthy* person just to prevent infection?

I do know that evidence is also mounting that circumcision can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases. But I plan to simply explain to my son that he should be careful (as should everyone!).

He could always choose to be circumcised as an adult. To me, it just isn't OK for an adult to make an irreversible decision like that for an infant. In the meantime, his father and I are teaching him to keep himself clean "down there."

By serenesurface — On Jun 19, 2012

@simrin-- I've had this a couple of times due to a fungal infection. I think not showering immediately after my workouts contributed to it. So I also recommend that you keep the area as clean and dry as possible.

One other thing that helps is to draw a bath, add sea salt or rock salt to it and sit in it for a while. Salt has antibacterial properties and prevents the accumulation of germs.

And in case your doctor forgot to mention this to you, avoid sex and masturbation until your posthitis heals. I made this mistake before, not only did it make the infection worse, but it caused a lot of pain too. It's not worth it, just wait until it's all better.

By ddljohn — On Jun 18, 2012

@simrin-- I had balanitis and posthitis together several years ago. I believe it took around three to four weeks for it to completely heal.

It takes at least three to five days for antibiotics to take effect so I'm not surprised that you haven't seen improvement with your condition as of yet. But hygiene is really important. Are you doing the warm water and soap cleaning technique? You need to retract the foreskin, soak it in warm soapy water and wipe it every day. If you don't keep the area clean, it won't get better.

I'm not sure what you can do for the swelling, it's probably best to advise with your doctor or a nurse about it. I did have some swelling, as well as a rash when I had posthitis. It slowly went away with the antibiotic treatment.

You can also use a topical antimicrobial cream on the area to speed up recovery time. You might need to have your doctor prescribe it for you. If you still don't see an improvement in several weeks, make sure to see your doctor again. You might need another course of antibiotics or maybe a corticosteroid cream. Get well soon!

By SteamLouis — On Jun 18, 2012

When the article says that a posthitis will recover in less than one month, how long is that exactly? Has anyone experienced posthitis before? How long did yours take to heal?

I have been taking antibiotics for a couple of days now for posthitis but my foreskin is very swollen and painful. It's uncomfortable and even more painful while urinating.

I don't know if I should be doing anything else to speed up recovery. My doctor only prescribed the antibiotics and didn't suggest anything else.

If anyone has had this condition before and has any suggestions, that would be great.

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