Yellow discharge from penis: What you need to know
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Seeing discharge coming out of your penis can be concerning, and it’s normal to wonder if it’s a sign that something is wrong with your body. In some cases, penile discharge may not represent a big problem, whereas in others, it can definitely point to an underlying condition.
It’s important to pay attention to its characteristics and accompanying symptoms so that you can take the best possible care of your body.
Let’s discuss some of the things that can cause yellow discharge from your penis, and when it’s time to go to the doctor.
Is penile discharge normal?
Penile discharge is usually defined as any substance coming from the penis that isn’t urine, semen, or pre-ejaculate.
Yellow penile discharge isn’t a common occurrence. In some instances, it can be caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), a non-sexually transmitted infection, or a different cause. But it’s important to keep an eye on any penile discharge and identify its characteristics, since that will give you an idea of what’s causing the problem.
Causes of yellow discharge from penis
Some causes of yellow discharge from penis include:
- Urinary tract infection
Gonorrhea, caused by bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is a common STI. This infection is completely asymptomatic for a large percentage of people affected — especially men. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can also cause symptoms that include:
- A painful or burning sensation when you urinate
- Painful, swollen testicles
- White, yellow, or green penis discharge
- Rectal pain, itching, discharge, and/or bleeding
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, and it’s spread through unprotected sexual contact. Chlamydia is asymptomatic in many cases; according to the UK’s NHS, at least half of all men infected with chlamydia are completely asymptomatic. But when it does cause symptoms, these can include:
- Thick and cloudy discharge that can also be white or brown
- Painful and frequent urination
- Testicular pain
- Swollen or enlarged testicles
- Rectal pain, discharge, and/or bleeding
Smegma results from a combination of dead skin cells, sebum, and water. It’s more common in uncircumcised males, where it collects under the foreskin; however, smegma can affect any man. It has a thick consistency and it can be white or yellowish in color. It can also generate a foul smell.
In small amounts, smegma helps lubricate the head of the penis, and keeps it moist to prevent irritation. An excessive buildup of smegma, on the other hand, can facilitate the growth of harmful bacteria and other dangerous pathogens, such as human papillomavirus (HPV). This can increase your risk of irritation and infections. According to the American Cancer Society, excessive smegma is a risk factor for penile cancer.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are far more common in women, but they can also affect men. Risk of UTIs in men increases with age. According to Harvard Health Publishing, this happens because many older men have enlarged prostates. This enlargement slows or blocks urine flow from the bladder, which allows harmful bacteria to grow inside the bladder.
In most cases, UTIs develop after bacteria that naturally live in the digestive tract (such as E. coli) enter the urinary tract, leading to an infection.
Symptoms of a UTI in men can include:
- Painful urination
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Clear or yellowish (pus-tinged) penile discharge
- Cloudy or foul smelling urine
Urethritis is an infection of the urethra, which is the small tube that connects your bladder to your urinary meatus, or the opening of the penis through which urine exits your body. Urethritis is most commonly caused by Neisseria gonnorhoeae (gonococcal urethritis), but it can also be caused by other pathogens, such as chlamydia, herpes, Mycoplasma genitalium, adenovirus, E.coli, herpes virus, streptococcus, and even as a symptom of reactive arthritis (non-gonococcal urethritis). According to an article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, gonococcal and non-gonococcal infections can often coexist.
Symptoms of urethritis can include:
- Urge to urinate
- Itching or tingling sensations on the penis
- White, cloudy, or yellowish green penile discharge
- A painful or burning sensation while you urinate
Balanitis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the glans or head of the penis. According to the Cleveland Clinic, balanitis is most common in uncircumcised males — but it can affect circumcised men, as well. It’s also more common in young children under the age of 4, but again, it can affect older males. Phimosis is also a risk factor for balanitis.
Symptoms of balanitis include:
- Pain on the head of the penis or glans
- Irritation, swelling, and/or redness on the glans
- White or yellowish discharge under the foreskin
- Painful urination
- Unpleasant smell
When to go to the doctor
Since yellow discharge from the penis typically points to an infection, it’s always a good idea to seek guidance from a healthcare professional. They will be able to perform a thorough physical examination and, in some cases, take a sample of the discharge in order to reach a diagnosis.
If your yellow penile discharge is caused by an infection (STI or otherwise), your doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take the full course of the medication, even if your symptoms resolve before the treatment is complete.
Written by Andrea Pinto on June 24, 2021
- STD Facts - Gonorrhea - cdc.gov
- Chlamydia - Symptoms - nhs.uk
- Balanitis: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Prevention & Relief - my.clevelandclinic.org
- Urinary Tract Infection in Men - health.harvard.edu
- Diagnosis and Treatment of Urethritis in Men - aafp.org
- Risk Factors for Penile Cancer - cancer.org
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