Looking beyond the symptoms and at the real risk of glans inflammation
One big reason why balanitis is often poorly treated is because most sufferers are unaware of its capacity for damage. The truth is, balanitis damage can go far beyond the glans and wreak havoc on our body, even endangering our life.
Here are 3 major reasons why balanitis should be taken seriously and treated properly right from the first flare-up...
Located at the tip of our glans is the opening of the urethra - the end point of our urinary and reproductive system. It is here that our body finally rids itself of its toxins (urine), sperm and prostatic fluids.
It is crucial for our body to maintain a free flow of these fluids from the kidneys and prostate all the way down to the exit point of urethra. Anything that impedes this flow can severely affect these organs and ultimately our life.
It would make sense that if there is one region on the glans that you would want to protect most during balanitis, it would be the tip where the opening of the urethra resides.
Ironically, of all the penile regions affected by balanitis, the tip of the glans is especially prone to damage. This area in particular is sensitive to inflammation and tends to heal poorly after flare-ups. The glans tip tends to scar easily and blood flow to this region is easily affected during acute flare-ups. Even a limited amount of scarring here can lead to a thickening of the tissue and cause a narrowing of the urethral opening. This is known as meatal stenosis and it can create a bottle neck in the flow of fluids.
This bottleneck can lead to a buildup of urinary pressure upstream that can be felt all the way up to your kidneys. The inability to easily empty your bladder can cause your kidneys to swell and experience damage, all this without causing any symptoms.
The slowdown of urinary flow also makes it easier for bacteria to breed, increasing your chances of developing urinary tract infections, bladder infections, prostate infections and kidney infections.
Since scarring caused by balanitis is permanent, this could mean recurring damage each time you urinate and recurring urinary infections from constant bacterial buildup.
Even worse is that the higher urinary pressures and recurrent infections can in turn cause the existing scarring to grow worse. The tissue scarring can move up the urethral opening and cause a narrowing deep within the urethra anywhere along the penile length. This is known as urethral stenosis and it requires surgical intervention.
While the glans is anatomically distinct from the foreskin, physiologically they both are almost identical. In other words, though both the glans and the foreskin are separate, they are basically made up of the same type of tissue. This also means that the foreskin is equally vulnerable to balanitis and experiences similar damage from inflammation.
In fact, inflammation of the foreskin (posthitis) often occurs simultaneously with inflammation of the glans (balanitis). This is referred to as balanoposthitis and it is treated the same way as you would treat balanitis because both tissues are so similar.
One of the most common complications of balanitis in uncircumcised patients is the tightening of the foreskin.
One of the key features of the foreskin is that it not only acts as a protective sheath over the glans but also reduces friction by sliding smoothly on and off the glans. This function is only possible if the foreskin is able to stretch and freely roll over the glans.
However, the inflammation caused by balanitis can cause scar tissue to form along the opening of the foreskin (preputial orifice). Since scar tissue is nowhere nearly as flexible as normal skin, the foreskin loses its ability to stretch as much. While the scar tissue may not be visible, the sufferer soon realizes that their foreskin doesn't slide as easily over the glans.
In the beginning, this can cause some soreness in the foreskin, however as the foreskin is repeatedly forced to move past the glans, the physical damage it experiences causes further buildup of scar tissue. This begins a progressive cycle of pain and foreskin tightening to the point where the glans can no longer move past the preputial opening and becomes permanently trapped behind it.
This condition is called phimosis and it can lead to many additional problems:
In essence, inflammation from balanitis can render the foreskin useless and create more serious secondary issues.
This is the biggest threat that balanitis sufferers face.
Did you know that...
Apart from its ability to cause pain and damage to vital organs such as the kidneys, balanitis has the ability to turn penile cells cancerous. This is done through the chronic inflammatory injury it causes to the glans. Chronic inflammation causes a marked increase in the number of cancer causing free-radicals. These free-radicals have the ability to damage our DNA and cause unregulated cell growth, forming a tumor. If this tumor is caught in the early stages, the cancer can be treated with a high degree of success. However, there are three main issues that make penile cancer extremely dangerous:
This shows how a wait-and-see approach towards balanitis can even allow the condition to progress to the point where it can become life threatening.
There are other issues that also contribute to penile being caught so late.
In most cases the patient is too shy to discuss his symptoms with his physician. In cases where the patient does discuss their condition with their doctor, research shows that physicians often misdiagnose the cancer as something less threatening - 25% of neoplastic penile lesions are misdiagnosed as benign.