Clinical Review

Man, 72, With Peeling Penile Skin

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A 72-year-old man presented to his primary care provider’s office with complaints of peeling skin on his penis and frequent, burning urination. He said he had first noticed redness on his penis about four days earlier, adding that it was growing worse. He was unsure whether he was truly experiencing frequent urination or just more aware of urinating because of the burning pain. He reported no attempts to treat himself, stating that he was “just keeping an eye on it and hoping it would go away.”

The patient’s medical history was limited to hypertension, for which he was taking valsartan, and allergies, for which he took fexofenadine. His surgical history included a tonsillectomy and appendectomy during his early teens. He had no known allergies to any medications.

The patient was married and retired after an executive career. He and his wife split their residence between New York and Florida during seasonal changes and were living in Florida at the time. He reported social drinking (“on rare occasions, these days”) and smoking an occasional cigar. He reported that he showers only once or twice weekly because of dry skin.

The following vital signs were recorded: blood pressure, 110/72 mm Hg; heart rate, 68 beats/min; respirations, 15/min; temperature, 97.8°F; and O2 saturation, 99% on room air. He was 73” tall and weighed 197 lb, with a BMI of 26.

The patient was alert and oriented. His physical exam was overall unremarkable, with the exception of an uncircumcised penis with redness and inflammation on the glans penis and no discharge noted. The reddened area was bright and shiny with a moist appearance and well-defined borders. The man denied any risk for sexually transmitted disease (STD) and denied any penile discharge. He also denied fever, chills, or arthritis.

Urinalysis performed in the office was negative for a urinary tract infection or for elevated glucose. A laboratory report from six months earlier was reviewed; all findings were within normal range, including the blood glucose level, with special attention paid for possible underlying cause; and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, obtained for possible prostatitis or prostate cancer.

The differential diagnosis included eczema or psoriasis, Zoon’s balanitis, penile cancer, balanitis xerotica obliterans (lichen sclerosus), candidiasis balanitis, and circinate balanitis (as occurs in patients with Reiter’s disease; see table1-5). The absence of circumcision and the patient’s report of infrequent bathing raised concern for a hygiene-related etiology; the final diagnosis, made empirically, was candidiasis balanitis. Regarding an underlying cause, the laboratory order included a urine culture, fasting complete blood count, chemistry panel, and PSA level.

The patient was given instructions to wash the affected area twice daily for one week with a lukewarm weak saline solution (1 tablespoon salt/L water),5,6 gently retracting the foreskin; he was also given a topical antifungal cream7 (ketoconazole 2%, although other choices are discussed below), to be applied two to three times daily until his symptoms resolved.6 He was advised to return in one week if the condition did not improve or grew worse5; referral to dermatology would then be considered. The patient was also advised that in the case of a recurrent episode, dermatology would be consulted. The possibility of circumcision was discussed,8 and the patient was given information about the procedure, with referral to a urologist in the area.


Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans penis; balanoposthitis involves the foreskin and prepuce.9-11 Balanitis can occur in men of any age, with etiologies varying with a patient’s age. Typical signs and symptoms include redness and swelling of the glans penis or foreskin, itching and/or pain, urethral discharge, phimosis, swollen lymph nodes, ulceration or plaque appearance, and pain on urination.12

In addition to the differential diagnoses mentioned, several additional conditions can be considered in a man with penile lesions. In older men, it is particularly important to investigate such lesions thoroughly, following the patient until the underlying cause is determined and the best treatment choice is selected. Specialists in dermatology and urology can best identify persistent or chronic lesions and make appropriate treatment recommendations, including possible circumcision.

The condition is commonly associated with absence of circumcision, poor hygiene, and phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin from the glans penis). Accumulation of glandular secretions (smegma) and sloughed epithelial cells under the foreskin can lead to irritation and subsequent infection.

Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes can be implicated in candidiasis infections.1 Other causes and contributing factors include chemical irritants (eg, soaps, lubricating jelly), edematous conditions (including congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, and nephrosis), drug allergies, morbid obesity, and a number of viruses and other pathogens, including those associated with STDs.12

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