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What is a penile yeast infection?
A yeast infection is often thought of as a female health problem, but it can affect anyone, including men. A penile yeast infection, if not treated, can lead to a wide range of painful, uncomfortable, and potentially embarrassing symptoms. It can also lead to serious complications if the infection spreads into your bloodstream.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can often clear up a yeast infection, and some basic prevention steps can help you avoid this fairly common condition.
Early symptoms of a penile yeast infection often include a red rash and sometimes white, shiny patches on the penis. The skin on the penis may be moist, and a thick white substance may be found under the foreskin or other folds of skin. You may also experience itching and a burning feeling on your penis.
Redness, itchiness, and pain in the penis can be signs of other more serious conditions, including some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so don’t ignore symptoms once they appear. A urologist or your primary care doctor can diagnose the condition, often in a single appointment.
A yeast infection is caused by a fungus called candida. A small amount of candida is usually present on the body. All it takes is an overgrowth of candida to develop a yeast infection. A moist environment is ideal for candida to spread.
One of the most common causes of a penile yeast infection is unprotected sexual intercourse with a woman who has a vaginal yeast infection. You can also develop one without sexual activity. Poor hygiene can make you vulnerable to a yeast infection, for example.
Aside from sex with a partner who has a yeast infection, several other risk factors can increase your odds of developing a penile yeast infection. Being uncircumcised is a major risk factor, as the area under the foreskin can be a breeding ground for candida. If you don’t bathe regularly or properly clean your genitals, you also put yourself at risk.
Other risk factors include prolonged use of antibiotics, as well as having diabetes or being obese. If you have an impaired immune system because of cancer treatment, HIV, or another reason, you may also be at a higher risk of a yeast infection.
Your doctor will examine your genitals and review your symptoms. Some of the white substance that forms on the penis may be examined under a microscope or cultured to confirm the type of fungus causing your symptoms.
If you can’t get in to see your doctor or a urologist, consider a visit to an urgent care center or even the emergency room. The earlier the problem is diagnosed and treatment begins, the more likely it is you can avoid complications.
Don’t diagnose and start treatment on your own. If symptoms of a yeast infection are present, see a doctor.
In most cases, topical antifungal ointments and creams are enough to clear up an infection. Many of the antifungal creams recommended for a yeast infection include:
- miconazole (Lotrimin AF, Cruex, Desenex, Ting Antifungal)
- imidazole (Canesten, Selezen)
- clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Anti-Fungal, Cruex, Desenex, Lotrimin AF Ringworm)
Most of these are available as OTC medications, meaning you will not need a prescription. More serious, or longer-term infections may require a prescription-strength medication.
Oral fluconazole (Diflucan) and a hydrocortisone cream may be advised in serious infections, such as those that have developed into a potentially serious condition called balanitis.
Sometimes yeast infections return after they appear to be cured. If this occurs, your doctor will likely recommend weekly treatments for several months following a couple weeks of daily treatment.
Most antifungal creams are well tolerated. You’re not likely to have any serious side effects. Check the label, however, and ask your doctor and pharmacist what to look out for in case you have a bad reaction.
If your infection doesn’t respond well to an antifungal ointment and you are uncircumcised, you may be advised to have a circumcision. Though this surgical procedure is typically done on infants, it can be done safely on a man of any age.
Along with using the medicated cream, you should also practice good hygiene to help clear up any lingering infection. Factors such as diabetes and a suppressed immune system may contribute to your yeast infection risk.
If you have diabetes, work with your healthcare providers to make sure your blood sugar levels are well controlled. If you have a suppressed immune system, your doctor can recommend ways to help keep your immune system as healthy as possible.
One of the potential complications of a penile yeast infection is balanitis. Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin or head of the penis. Diabetes can increase your risk for balanitis.
If balanitis isn’t treated effectively, scarring of the foreskin can occur. It can also cause adhesions on the penis. The condition can be painful and make urinating more difficult. If untreated, balanitis can cause swollen and painful glands, as well as weakness and fatigue.
A yeast infection may enter the bloodstream. This is known as candidemia or invasive candidiasis. This is most common in men who wait to receive treatment until the infection has spread beyond the penis. It is also more common in men with weakened immune systems.
If you’ve been in a hospital and used a catheter to urinate, you may be more likely to face invasive candidiasis. This advanced form of a yeast infection is very serious. Oral antifungal medications may be needed for several weeks. In some cases, the drugs are administered intravenously.
If your infection is treated early and responds well to antifungal medication, it can clear up within a week. If you are sexually active, your partner should also be treated for a yeast infection to avoid re-infection. Your partner should be treated regardless of whether or not the infection was spread from them to you.
If you get recurrent yeast infections and you can rule out causes such as hygiene and sexual contact, talk with your doctor about other possible causes. You may have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes.
Men are generally much less likely than women to develop a yeast infection, but it’s important to know how such an infection can develop and how to recognize the usual symptoms.
You can help prevent a penile yeast infection by avoiding sexual contact with a partner who has a yeast infection. You should also avoid having sex with anyone while you have an active yeast infection. You could give the infection back to your partner, and the two of you could trade an infection back and forth.
To avoid getting a yeast infection or passing one along, do the following:
- Wear a condom to help reduce your chances of developing a yeast infection.
- Practice sexual monogamy to reduce your risk for a yeast infection.
- Practice good hygiene, and keep your penis and genitals clean and dry.
- If you are uncircumcised, clean under the foreskin with soap and water, and return your foreskin to its usual position after you have sexual intercourse.
Penile yeast infections are uncommon. They may result from poor hygiene or condomless sex with a partner who has a vaginal yeast infection. Symptoms include small white patches and redness on the skin and itchiness or burning. In most cases, topical antifungal ointments and creams can treat the infection.