Redness at the Tip of the Penis Symptom, Causes & Questions
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Redness on the penis tip is also known as balanitis and those who are uncircumcised are more at risk. Redness on the penis head is often associated with itching, swelling, or pain with urination. Common causes include penis irritation caused by hygienic products and chemicals, urethritis, scabies, or sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia. Read below for more causes and treatment options for redness at the tip of the penis.
Symptoms of redness at the tip or head of the penis
Issues related to the genital area can be embarrassing and uncomfortable to discuss; however, genital health is an important topic as it can signal underlying health problems beyond reproductive capabilities such as ejaculation or erections. Any issues related to the penis or parts of the genitalia should be followed-up appropriately.
The penis has several components. When referring to redness at the tip of the penis, the component involved is called the glans, or head of the penis. At birth, the head of the penis 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.
Both circumcised and uncircumcised individuals can experience redness at the tip of the penis in circumcised penises the redness occurs on the glans itself, whereas in uncircumcised penises the redness may involve the foreskin as well. Redness of the glans, also known as balanitis, is a relatively common condition which affects approximately three to 11 percent of males. It can have many different causes; fortunately, most cases of balanitis are benign and easily treatable.
People with balanitis often experience other symptoms in addition to the redness at the tip. Symptoms associated with balanitis may include:
What can cause the tip of the penis to be red or sore?
Causes of balanitis are primarily inflammatory, but there are many other causes as well. Those who are uncircumcised are generally at a greater risk; however, the causes below can affect circumcised individuals as well.
Inflammatory causes may be related to the following.
- Infection: Infections of the penis including but not limited to sexually transmitted bacteria and/or viruses can result in redness and inflammation of the glans. Associated symptoms often include dysuria and genital discharge. Fungal infections of the head of the penis can also result in a similar presentation, with redness of the glans in addition to white patches on the shaft of the penis.
- Dermatologic: Some inflammatory conditions of the skin can result in balanitis. For example, lichen sclerosus is a rare dermatologic condition that has a specific predisposition for the genital area in all genders.
- Systemic: Systemic conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can result in inflammation around the glans. People with advanced diabetes or kidney disease can have high concentrations of glucose in the urine (glycosuria). Since the urethra runs through the penis and exits from the glans, with urination, the excess glucose can cause irritation of around the head of the penis. This can result in balanitis in addition to a host of other symptoms.
Proper hygiene is key in maintaining penile health, especially if you are not circumcised. Regularly cleaning underneath the foreskin with mild soap and water is very important in keeping harmful bacteria at bay. It is also important to practice good sexual hygiene. Using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners is essential in preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
Causes related to allergens may involve the following.
- Irritants: In regards to hygiene, it is also very important to avoid heavily scented soaps and lotions around the genital area as they can be very irritating to the sensitive skin of that area. These products can also cause inflammation to the glans due to allergic or sensitivity reactions.
- Medication: Some medications may cause reactions that result in inflammation or swelling of the penis. Talk to your physician about any medications you have started and possible side effects.
Though rare, sometimes redness of the glans may signal penile cancer, especially if it is associated with a blister or growth that increases in size over time. Penile cancer may be associated with other symptoms such as fatigue and unexplained weight loss.
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
Irritant contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.
Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.
Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.
Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.
A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.
Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.
Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
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
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
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
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
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), ...
Treatments and relief for redness at the tip or head of the penis
There are some preventative methods you can implement in your daily routine and lifestyle to help curb symptoms. However, if you are unable to find relief, you should consult your physician for further treatment.
Balanitis can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes and habits including:
- Proper hygiene: As stated above, poor hygiene can be a cause of balanitis. 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 glans that are easily preventable with vaccination. If you are 26 or younger, discuss this options with your healthcare professional.
Treatment for balanitis will depend on the cause and may include the following:
- Antibiotics: Your physician will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics if your balanitis 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 balanitis, your physician may recommend circumcision. The preserved foreskin is more easily susceptible to infection and inflammation, especially if it is not properly cleaned and take care of.
Although balanitis is usually benign, getting appropriate treatment is important. Without treatment, serious complications such as phimosis, which is a condition in which the foreskin cannot be pulled away from the head of the penis due to inflammation, can result. This can result in difficulty with urination which can lead to bladder infections and other complications.
FAQs about redness at the tip of the penis
Here are some frequently asked questions about redness at the tip of the penis.
Can I continue to have sex while being treated for balanitis (redness at the tip of the penis)?
If you are being treated for balanitis that is NOT caused by infection, you can continue to have sex as tolerated. It is 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 on the tip of my penis 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. You should 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 discuss these symptoms and follow-up 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 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 at the tip of my penis (balanitis)?
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, there are many options such as nystatin or Monistat.
Questions your doctor may ask about redness at the tip of the penis
- Do you feel pain when you urinate?
- Are you sexually active?
- Do you have a rash?
- 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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- Penis Health: Identify and Prevent Problems. Mayo Clinic. Published April 8, 2016. Mayo Clinic Link
- 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. NCBI Link