Penile Redness Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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A red penis can be caused from sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia or genital herpes, or a urinary tract infection. An overlooked cause of redness on the penis is chemical irritation from hygienic products. Read below for more information on penile redness and treatment options.
Symptoms of penile redness
If you are experiencing issues related to the genital area, you may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable speaking with your healthcare provider about your symptoms and concerns. This is understandable, however, discussing your situation is very important because the state of your genital health can be a representation of your overall health.
If you are a man experiencing symptoms of penile redness, this may be a signal of an underlying health problem. In order to get appropriate treatment and care, it is necessary to follow-up with your physician.
Common characteristics of penile redness are
It can be very helpful to your medical provider to ask yourself the following questions and take note of what you experience. It is particularly important to take note of where the penile redness occurs.
- Is the redness localized to one area of the penis?
- Is the redness affecting the entire penis?
- Has the redness spread from the penis to include other parts of the groin such as the pubis or thighs?
Common accompanying symptoms are
In addition, you may experience other symptoms in addition to the redness, including:
- Foul odor
- Pain with urination (dysuria)
- Genital discharge (yellow or white)
- Soreness or pain
- Warmth to the touch
- Dry skin or scaling
Discuss these symptoms with your healthcare provider in order to get appropriate treatment.
Causes of penile redness
The male penis has several components:
- Glans (head of the penis)
- The root (the part attached to the lower abdomen/pelvis)
The opening of the urethra (the tube that transports semen and urine) is located at the tip of the glans penis. At birth, the glans is covered by foreskin, which is simply loose skin surrounding the glans. The foreskin can be preserved or removed surgically in a process called circumcision.
Another reproductive organ in close proximity to the penis that also may become red is the scrotum. The scrotum is an external sac of skin that encloses the testicles (also known as the testes). The testicles are the round, egg-shaped male reproductive organs behind the penis.
Redness of these components is primarily inflammatory in nature, but many other conditions can cause redness as well. Penile redness can affect both circumcised and uncircumcised men.
Inflammatory causes of penile redness include the following.
- Infection: Many different infectious pathogens can infect the genital area such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. All of these infectious agents can cause redness and inflammation of the penis and are often but not exclusively sexually transmitted. In addition to redness and inflammation, these infections can also result in associated symptoms such as dysuria and penile discharge. Fungal infections can also result in white patches on the penis in addition to redness.
- Dermatologic: There are multiple dermatologic diseases that can affect the penis and cause redness and associated symptoms. For example, lichen sclerosis and psoriasis are chronic inflammatory skin diseases that have a predilection for the genital area in both men and women. Psoriasis is characterized by erythematous papules or plaques (small, raised lesions or swellings) with irregular borders covered by scales. Psoriasis can affect both the penis and the scrotum.
- Systemic: Systemic conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can result in inflammation around the glans. People with advanced forms of these conditions can have high concentrations of glucose in their urine (glycosuria). Since the urethra runs through the penis and exits from the glans, with urination, the excess glucose can cause irritation of and around the head of the penis. This can result in redness and inflammation that can affect the rest of the penis.
Proper hygiene is key in maintaining genital health. Regularly cleaning underneath the foreskin of the penis and around the scrotum with mild soap and water is very important in keeping harmful bacteria away. It is also important to practice good sexual hygiene. Remember to use condoms and safe sexual practices in order to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
Causes of penile redness related to allergens may include the following.
- Irritants: Many substances can irritate the skin and cause rashes and redness. This is known as dermatitis. Products such as heavily scented soaps, lotions, perfumes and even some types of jewelry around the genital area can be very irritating and cause inflammation to the penis due to allergic or sensitivity reactions.
- Medication: Some medications may cause reactions that result in redness, inflammation or swelling of the scrotum. For example, older males who have a history of prolonged topical corticosteroid use may develop red scrotum syndrome that can spread to the penis as a side effect of the medication. Talk to your doctor about any medications you have started and possible side effects.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Irritation of the penis is common, and can come from a number of benign causes. Common causes include cleaning with a new kind of soap, cleaning too much, or chaffing.
Top Symptoms: penis itch, penile redness
Symptoms that never occur with penile irritation: fever, painful urination, testicle pain
Chlamydia in men is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. The disease is caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria.
A man can get chlamydia through having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner, either male or female.
Symptoms of chlamydia in men include discharge from the penis; burning sensation on urination; and sometimes pain and swelling in the testicles. The disease can spread to the rectum and cause rectal pain, bleeding, and discharge. It may affect the eyes and cause bacterial conjunctivitis.
It is important to get treatment for these symptoms, as chlamydia in men can lead to sterility. It also leaves a person more susceptible to contracting HIV.
Diagnosis is made through urine test and/or a swab from the end of the penis.
Treatment involves a course of antibiotics, usually by mouth, to kill the bacteria. Be sure to finish all of the medication as directed.
It is possible to be re-infected with chlamydia even after having the disease, so it still very important to practice safe sex.
Top Symptoms: testicle pain, sudden urgency to urinate, painful urination, frequent urination, fluid leaking
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A urinary tract infection is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and urethra. Urinary tract infections are usually caused by infections by fecal bacteria.
Symptoms of urinary tract infections include pain with urination (dysuria), ...
Genital herpes, or herpes simplex virus 2 infection, is a sexually transmitted disease that causes incurable sores in the genital and rectal areas. The disease is caused by the HSV-2 virus.
Most susceptible are women, as the virus is more easily transmitted from men to women during sex. However, many people carry HSV-2 but are never diagnosed.
- The virus can be transmitted during sex even by a person with no symptoms.
When present, symptoms include small, painful, blister-like lesions on the genitals and rectum; flu-like symptoms of fever, headache, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Before blisters appear, there may be pain and tinging at the site of the outbreak.
HSV-2 cannot be cured, but can be managed to help ease the symptoms and prevent further spread. The virus can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby during the birth process, and anyone with herpes simplex is especially vulnerable to HIV.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and fluid samples from active lesions.
Treatment involves antiviral medication and always practicing safe sex.
Top Symptoms: symptoms of infection, fatigue, muscle aches, fever, penis pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Scabies is a rash caused by the microscopic human itch mite. It burrows into the top layer of skin to feed and causes severe itching and irritation.
The mite spreads through direct contact or through infested bedding or furniture. It can infect anyone, though most susceptible are:
- Sexually active young adults.
- Anyone with a weakened immune system.
- Patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Symptoms include intense itching, especially at night, and a rash of tiny red bumps. Scratching may cause the rash to form sores, scales, or crusts. The rash most often forms between the fingers, in the folds of the wrists and elbows, and any place normally covered by clothing.
It is important to get treatment because the scratching can cause an infection in the skin. In children, mites can cover nearly the entire body.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin test.
Treatment involves a prescription for skin cream. Everyone who has come into contact with the affected person must be treated, even if they show no symptoms.
Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, feeling itchy or tingling all over, butt itch, elbow itch
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Non-specific skin rash
Common causes of rash are contact dermatitis, sun damage, or allergic reaction. However, many rashes are a symptom of disease and should not be ignored.
Nonspecific rashes have widely varied symptoms:
- May be flat and smooth; slightly raised or with swollen welts; clean and dry; or blistered and oozing.
May spread widely over the body, or be confined to one site.
- May appear after eating certain foods; or after exposure to certain plants or to insect stings or bites.
Other symptoms may be present, including pain anywhere in the body; nausea; vomiting; fever; headache; or abdominal pain and upset.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination to determine the exact type, location, and history of the rash, along with any other symptoms that may be present.
Those symptoms will be investigated with blood tests or imaging. Skin swabs may be taken and tested. After the process has ruled out as many causes as possible, a course of treatment can be determined.
Top Symptoms: rash
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific skin rash: rash
Urgency: Wait and watch
Urethritis is an infection of the urethra, which drains urine out of the body from the bladder. The urethra may be involved alone or with other structures in an overall urinary tract infection.
Urethritis is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in itself, but the same bacteria and viruses that cause STDs can also infect the urethra. Another common cause is the E.coli bacteria, found in feces.
Most susceptible are sexually active women, but anything that allows bacteria (especially E. coli) to travel into the urinary tract can cause an infection.
The most common symptoms are burning on urination and a cloudy discharge.
Diagnosis is made through urine test and a swab taken from the urethra. A urethritis patient should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases as well.
Treatment involves antibiotics, if the urethritis is caused by bacteria. Taking cranberry supplements can also be helpful, as long as the patient is not also taking the blood thinner called warfarin.
Top Symptoms: painful urination, penis pain, fluid leaking, pink/blood-tinged urine, cloudy urine
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a germ (bacterium) called the gonococcus. This bacterium is spread by sexual contact, or through transmission during childbirth, and causes inflammation of the urethra, which is the tube that passes urine.
Top Symptoms: painful urination, fluid leaking, spontaneous testicle pain, redness at the tip of the penis, testicular swelling
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Penile redness treatments and relief
As detailed further in the prevention section, the best way to deal with penile redness while you wait for an appointment is to make sure to keep the area clean with mild soap, dry whenever possible, as well as utilizing safe sex practices. It may also be helpful to wear loose, comfortable, breathable clothing to limit irritation.
When to see a doctor
If your penile redness worsens or persists, you should see a physician. Treatment for penile redness will depend on the cause and may include the following.
- Antibiotics: Your physician will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics if your penile redness is the result of a bacterial infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.
- Antifungal medication: Yeast such as candida are fungi that can be treated with topical or systemic medications that your healthcare provider can prescribe.
- Dermatological creams: If your symptoms are caused by a dermatologic skin condition, your physician may prescribe steroid creams or ointments that can help alleviate your symptoms.
- Circumcision: If you are an uncircumcised male who experiences recurrent episodes of penile redness, especially around the glans, your physician may recommend circumcision. The preserved foreskin is more easily susceptible to infection and inflammation, especially if it is not properly taken care of and cleaned.
When it is an emergency
Penile redness becomes an emergent condition if it is associated with severe pain or swelling, high fever, nausea or vomiting.
Simple lifestyle habits and changes can help prevent the onset of penile redness:
- Proper hygiene: As stated above, poor hygiene can be a cause of penile redness. Properly and regularly cleaning the penis and foreskin (if present) are steps you can take at home to prevent symptoms.
- Sexually responsible habits: Preventing sexually transmitted infections not only involves using condoms but also limiting sexual partners and getting tested regularly.
- Proper vaccination: Genital warts and HPV are conditions that can infect and inflame the penis that are easily preventable with vaccination. Although the vaccine is marketed mostly to people 26 or younger, please discuss this option with your healthcare professional at any age.
FAQs about penile redness
Can I continue to have sex while being treated penile redness?
Even if you are being treated for balanitis that is NOT caused by infection, still practice caution regarding sexual activity. Many inflammatory causes of penile redness may not be contagious, but they can become easily irritated and worsen with activities such as sex. It is definitely not advisable to continue sexual relations during treatment for infections as there is a high risk of transmission, even with proper condom use.
Is the redness of my penis a sign of cancer?
In very rare cases, redness on the penis or swelling may signal cancer, especially if it is associated with a growth that increases in size. Also take note of symptoms such as changes in the color of the skin of the penis, foul-smelling discharge or bleeding, and thickening of the skin. Make sure to follow-up these symptoms with your healthcare provider if they do not resolve over time or worsen.
Is circumcision painful?
A recent study published in the Journal of Urology in 2013, surveyed 112 men about pain after adult circumcision. The study found that pain is primarily defined as “moderate” after circumcision with general anesthesia and penile block (which is a temporary block of sensation in the penis). Severe pain is very rare.
Is redness at the tip of the penis life-threatening?
Most causes of redness at the tip of the penis (balanitis) are benign and not life-threatening; however, that does not mean you should not follow-up your symptoms with a healthcare professional. Untreated balanitis can have medical complications such as phimosis, a condition in which the foreskin cannot be pulled away from the head of the penis due to inflammation. Phimosis can lead to urinary problems and sometimes requires surgical treatment.
Are there at home treatments I can use to treat the redness of my penis?
It is important to get the appropriate diagnosis before self-treating for balanitis. There are multiple over-the-counter remedies you can use for specific causes of balanitis; for example, in the case of fungal candidiasis (the most frequently diagnosed), there are many options such as nystatin or Monistat.
Questions your doctor may ask about penile redness
- Do you have a rash?
- Do you feel pain when you urinate?
- Are you sexually active?
- Do you notice anything going on with your penis?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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- Rai BP, Qureshi A, Kadi N, Donat R. How painful is adult circumcision? A prospective, observational cohort study. The Journal of Urology. 2013;189(6):2237-2242. PubMed Link
- Balanitis. NHS. Reviewed May 31, 2018. NHS Link
- Balanitis and balanoposthitis: A review. Genitourin Medicine. 1996;72(3):155-9. NCBI Link