What Is Posthitis?

Posthitis is an inflammation of the foreskin in uncircumcised males. The foreskin or prepuce is the retractable skin layer covering the head (or glans) of the penis. If the inflammation spreads to the glans, it is called balano-posthitis. Posthitis has a variety of causes, ranging from common issues of hygiene to more serious (but less common) medical conditions. Though unpleasant and painful, posthitis is usually temporary in nature and typically responds well to non-surgical treatment.

If you or a loved one develops posthitis, seek medical care. The Baptist Health urology team is ready to serve you.

Causes & Risk Factors

Posthitis has multiple causes. Primary among these is insufficient hygiene, which allows the buildup of urine, sweat, germs, and other irritants under the foreskin. Other causes include:

  • Allergic reactions to condoms, lubricants, and spermicides
  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections, including pathogenic yeasts
  • Phimosis, a tightening of the foreskin that prevents full retraction from the glans
  • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
  • Skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis

The major risk factor for developing posthitis is being an uncircumcised male. Posthitis is also more likely for persons with diabetes or a penile cancer. It can occur as well in individuals who wear diapers, whether children or adults.

Is Posthitis an STD?

Posthitis is not a sexually transmitted infection or disease (though it may be caused by one). It is a non-contagious medical condition, meaning that you can’t transfer it to another person by means of intimate contact.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Several symptoms are common to an outbreak of posthitis:

  • Discoloration of the foreskin
  • Itchiness
  • Oily, odorous discharges (called smegma)
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Pain
  • Swelling (called edema)

In the most serious cases, you may experience difficulty urinating or feel discomfort during sexual intercourse.

Posthitis typically requires medical diagnosis. Your physician will document symptoms and physically examine your genitals. He or she may also arrange for one or more of the following tests:

  • Skin test: A skin test is used to collect evidence from the surface of the foreskin of a bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Skin-patch test: This variant is used when your physician suspects that your condition is an allergic reaction.
  • Skin biopsy: A skin sample may be collected and analyzed if evidence for a possible cancer is present.
  • Urinalysis: Analyzing a urine sample can sometimes identify the presence of causal agents (such as bacteria) or an associated medical condition (elevated glucose levels indicating diabetes).
  • Urethral-discharge test: This test collects evidence of bacterial or fungal infection in the urethra (the tube running through the penis that ends at the opening).

If symptoms of posthitis occur in conjunction with evidence for a sexually transmitted infection or disease, your physician may also order bloodwork and any other tests appropriate for identifying that condition.

Posthitis vs. Balanitis

Posthitis and balanitis are two different, though related, medical conditions. Posthitis is an inflammation of the penile foreskin in an uncircumcised male. Balanitis is a similar condition affecting the penis itself, typically focused on the head or glans. All males, whether circumcised or not, can develop balanitis, though it is more common among uncircumcised males due to the presence of the foreskin. A third condition, called balano-posthitis, affects both the foreskin and the glans, and is therefore limited to uncircumcised males.

Treatment Options for Posthitis

Depending on the cause, posthitis is usually addressed without surgery. Some common treatments are:

  • Antibiotics or antifungal creams to eliminate bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
  • Allergen avoidance and antihistamines to manage a hypersensitive response to some element of the external environment
  • Proper disease management, if your posthitis is linked to an associated medical condition, such as diabetes
  • Increased emphasis on genital hygiene, including regular cleaning of the foreskin and penis

If you experience recurring symptoms, your physician may ask you to consider circumcision. This would eliminate possible future episodes, though circumcising an adult is riskier than a child and is associated with longer recovery times.

The prognosis for this condition is generally favorable. With proper care, posthitis will often go away in a week.

Recovery & Management

The following are suggested steps for you to take while treating your condition:

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes that chafe the genital region
  • Bathe regularly and dry thoroughly afterward
  • Use scent-free, hypoallergenic soaps and laundry detergents
  • Follow the treatment plan prescribed by your physician

You may want to curtail sexual activity while recovering from posthitis. This is especially true if you have reason to believe that the cause of your condition was a sexually transmitted infection.

Complications & Prevention

There are things that you can do to avoid posthitis. The most important of these is proper hygiene. Wash your genitals regularly with soap and warm water, pulling back the foreskin to clean underneath. Wearing a condom during sex as protection against sexually transmitted infections may also help unless you are allergic to the material from which the condom is manufactured (typically latex).

If you develop posthitis symptoms, seek care. Treatment can accelerate the healing process and decrease the possibility of a more serious complication.

When to See a Urologist for Posthitis

Posthitis is an inflammatory disease of the foreskin experienced by men who have not been circumcised. Though not a medical emergency, it can be a painful condition, lessening quality of life. Early detection and treatment are critical in addressing it. If you think that you may be suffering from posthitis, call a Baptist Health urologist today.

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