It is important to remember that the very tip of the foreskin (the preputial orifice) is normally rose-colored. This is because the tissue starts to change from an outer skin to an inner skin. However, when the tip of the foreskin becomes extra red or inflamed in an infant, the culprit is usually irritation from diapers. This is very common and not a concern, especially since the baby is not usually bothered by it. When the tip of the foreskin is red, it is protecting the glans and urinary opening (meatus). The cause must be determined. Causes include infrequent diaper changes, bubble baths, chlorinated water (swimming pools), soap on the foreskin, harsh soap or detergent on diapers or underwear, antibiotics, and concentrated urine from dehydration.
Drinking water, soaking in soap-free bath water a few times per day, bacterial replacement therapy (liquid Acidophilus culture both ingested and applied to the foreskin 4-6 times a day), and plenty of air will all help healing. Some parents will apply a moisture barrier, such as coconut oil, to the penis until it clears up. Usually, this will resolve in 24-48 hours.
As said before, the very tip of the foreskin is normally rose-colored. With toddlers, extra redness or irritation could be from multiple factors. As listed above, the culprit could be diaper irritation or any of the other factors, such as soaps or chlorine.
However, as boys become older, it could be likely that the symptoms are from the natural separation of the foreskin from the glans (head). While the average age for this to happen is 10 years old, it is possible to happen to boys who are younger.
When the foreskin starts to naturally separate, it is not uncommon for there to be slight discomfort in the form of itching, redness, or extra sensitivity. These symptoms are caused by the natural process of the fused tissue breaking down and separating. Some boys do not seem to be bothered by natural separation, and others might be more sensitive. Either way, rest assured that it won't last long and will resolve on its own.
When Could it be a Problem?
While the majority of boys with redness are simply experiencing slight irritation, it is important to keep an eye out for other symptoms, such as fever or extreme discomfort (especially when urinating.) It could be possible that they are experiencing a urinary tract or yeast infection. If this is the case, you might want to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Be aware that your doctor will likely want a urine sample, so be sure to read our information on catheters and intact boys before you go in for a visit. We also have a list of intact-friendly doctors if you would like to try to find one in your area.
For a Yeast Infection: First, stop using bubble baths, soaps, and/or shampoos in the bath. Then, purchase liquid Acidophilus culture (the active ingredient in yogurt but more concentrated in this form) from your natural food store and apply it to your son's foreskin six times a day for three days and his foreskin should return to health by the end of the time. If not, continue this therapy for a couple of more days. This is called "Bacterial Replacement Therapy". Yeast overgrowth occurs when normal bacteria are destroyed by items such as bubble baths, soaps, antibiotics, and chlorinated swimming pools. We suggest to add healthy bacteria back onto the tissue rather than medicine to kill yeast. The yeast will subside when the bacteria are growing back on the tissue. When boys are able, you can pour a couple teaspoons into a cupped hand and have the boy dip his foreskin to the liquid and let it drip dry. Remember, don't use soap on a boy's foreskin! Over-the-counter yeast medications, or creams prescribed by your doctor, can also cure the yeast infection. Be sure to consult your doctor if the condition doesn't improve.
For a Urinary Tract Infection: You can provide relief for your son by having him place his penis in a warm cup of water while urinating. D-Mannose has been known as a natural remedy for urine infections, and as always, it is important to drink plenty of water. As stated earlier, a liquid Acidophilus culture (both ingested and applied to the foreskin 4-6 times a day) will help balance out the natural flora. Breast milk also helps fight UTIs (and prevent them, as well), so be sure to offer it often (if available). As always, antibiotics prescribed by your doctor will take care of the infection as well, so be sure to consult your doctor if the conditions don't improve. As said above, be aware that your doctor will likely want a urine sample, so be sure to read our information on catheters and intact boys before you go in for a visit. We also have a list of intact-friendly doctors if you would like to try to find one in your area.
For Balanitis: This article from Hybrid Rasta Mama has wonderful information on the symptoms and treatment of balanitis.