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Penis Infections

Types of infection and how to spot them

There are a number of infections that can affect the penis. The most common of these include non-gonococcal or non-specific urethritis (NGU or NSU), balanitis (balanoposthitis), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

The most common penis infection is non-gonococcal or non-specific urethritis (NSU or NGU). Around 80,000 men are diagnosed with these conditions every year (it is more difficult to diagnose urethritis in women because it may not cause as many symptoms). Other common infections affecting the penis include balanitis (also sometimes called balanoposthitis), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. These last three are sexually transmitted.

The symptoms of infection will vary depending on the bacteria causing the infection and the person who has it. In general, some typical symptoms of a penis infection include:

  • Penile discharge
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Pain on urination (dysuria)
  • Rash
  • Pain or soreness

Non-gonococcal or non-specific urethritis (NGU/NSU)

The symptoms of NGU/NSU include a white or cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis; a burning sensation on urination; more frequent urination; and pain or soreness around the tip of the penis.

Balanitis

Symptoms of balanitis include inflammation (redness and swelling) and soreness or pain around the head of the penis or foreskin; a thick discharge beneath the foreskin; a rash or itchy patch on the penis; noticeable and unpleasant odour; and pain on urination (dysuria).

Chlamydia

Chlamydia can cause pain on urination, pain in the testicles, and a white, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis.

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea can cause pain on urination, inflammation of the foreskin, and an unusual white, yellow or green discharge from the tip of the penis

Syphilis

Syphilis develops in four stages; in the primary stage, if there are any symptoms at all, the most noticeable one would be a sore, known as a chancre, which is usually painless, and which develops on or around the penis. See our sexual health pages for more information.

Urethritis (NGU or NSU)

Urethritis means inflammation of the urethra (the tube through which urine passes out of the body). It is usually, but not always, caused by infection. Because of this, the best way to avoid it is to practice safer sex.

Balanitis (or balanoposthitis)

Balanitis is a condition where the head of the penis (glans) becomes inflamed. Sometimes balanitis can also affect the foreskin, and is more common in men who have not been circumcised. It is usually caused by an irritation of the skin caused by a build-up of smegma, which happens either due to poor hygiene, or in young boys, when the foreskin is too tight to pull back. Balanitis can also be caused by phimosis (a narrowing of the opening of the foreskin), which traps penile discharge under the foreskin and can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis

These three infections are sexually transmitted. Each present with different symptoms and in some cases you may be asymptomatic even though you are carrying the infection. See our symptoms and sexual health pages for more information.”

Causes

The main causes of an infection in the penis are:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Having a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Your skin is reacting to an irritant or allergen

Poor hygiene

Smegma is a natural lubricant that is found on the head of the penis (glans) and beneath the foreskin. If you don’t wash your penis daily, the smegma can build up, leading to strong odour, preventing the movement of the foreskin, and in some cases, can lead to a build-up of bad bacteria. This can lead to an inflammation of the glans, called balanitis.

Sexually transmitted infections

Men who have sex with men are in the highest-risk group for contracting sexually transmitted infections. It is recommended that men who have sex with men get sexual health check-ups at least every six months, especially as some infections do not present with symptoms.

What to do next

We can help you with any concerns you have about your sexual health, give you a diagnosis and help you with any existing symptoms or conditions. Give us a call or make an appointment to speak to one of our team today. You can request a male doctor if you prefer.

  • 020 7323 1023Harley St Area
  • 020 7101 0355City of London

FAQ

How are penis infections treated?

If you are experiencing any symptoms of a bacterial infection or STI, speak to one of our doctors about getting a diagnosis and possible treatment. Most infections are treated easily with medications such as antifungal creams, corticosteroids, or antibiotics. In some cases, you may need to avoid certain brands of soap, if your symptoms are due to a skin irritation.

Does personal hygiene make a difference in terms of infection?

Yes. Always keep your penis clean by washing regularly with warm water, avoiding potential irritants such as soap, especially heavily scented soap or soap containing deodorants. A regular personal hygiene routine is the best way to avoid balanitis and build-up of unhealthy bacteria.

Will I have to take antibiotics if I have a penis infection?

If you have a bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe a seven-day course of oral antibiotic tablets such as flucloxacillin or metronidazole, depending on the diagnosis.

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Please note that Walk In Clinic is a private medical centre and not an NHS service.