What Causes Penis Discharge? How to Treat It

Medically Reviewed By Joseph Brito III, MD
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Penis discharge occurs when fluid releases from your penis. Both the thickness and color of the discharge can vary. It typically occurs as a result of an infection. Any released fluid that is not semen or urine is penis discharge. This fluid can be milky white, yellow, or greenish. While it often occurs as a result of infection, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), there may be other possible causes.

Read on to find out about causes and treatments for penis discharge.

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and/or “male” to refer to sex that was assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

What causes penis discharge?

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Penis discharge can have a number of different causes.

Penis discharge from sexually transmitted infections

STIs may cause discharge from the penis. The discharge may be a symptom of the STI, or it may occur due to urethritis, which is a urinary tract infection (UTI) that can sometimes happen as a result of an STI.

Penile discharge can happen as a result of STIs including:

Chlamydia

If you have chlamydia, you may notice a white, cloudy, or watery discharge from the tip of the penis. Symptoms of chlamydia typically appear around 1–3 weeks after having unprotected sex with somebody with the infection. In some cases, they may not show until a number of months later.

In 2020, there were 1,579,885 reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. This is around 481.3 cases per 100,000 people.

Learn more about chlamydia here.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea discharge appears from the tip of the penis, and it can be white, yellow, or green. Around 1 in 10 males will not experience any obvious symptoms of gonorrhea, so you may not always have discharge when the condition is present.

In 2020, there were 677,769 reported cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. It was the second most common notifiable STI in the country that year.

Learn more about gonorrhea here.

Genital herpes

Discharge from genital herpes typically comes from blisters on the shaft of the penis rather than from the urethra or the tip. The blisters can burst and ooze a whitish fluid or blood. However, many people do not have any symptoms if they have herpes.

Genital herpes is common, affecting around 572,000 people in a year. It occurs when the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) transmits during sex, and it affects as many as 491 million people ages 15–49 years worldwide.

Learn more about genital herpes here.

Trichomoniasis

If you have trichomoniasis, you may notice a thin, white discharge from the penis. This usually develops within a month of you contracting the infection.

In 2018, there were around 2.8 million cases of trichomoniasis in the U.S., which includes 2.1% of females and 0.5% of males ages 14–59 years. It occurs as a result of the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis.

Learn more about trichomoniasis here.

Other causes of penis discharge

Penis discharge can also occur due to the following:

  • balanitis
  • chemical irritation from soaps, spermicides, or bath products
  • phimosis
  • UTIs
  • urethritis
  • smegma
  • penile cancer

Balanitis

Balanitis refers to inflammation at the head of the penis, or the glans penis. A foul smelling discharge under the foreskin can indicate balanitis, which may occur as a result of inadequate hygiene, infection, chemical irritation, or allergy.

Balanitis can occur at any age, affecting around 3–11% of males during their lifetime. It is more likely to affect males who are uncircumcised.

Learn more about balanitis here.

Urethritis

Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra, which typically occurs as a result of infection, such as an STIs or UTI. It can produce a white and cloudy discharge from the penis, as well as a burning or stinging sensation during urination.

Around 4 million people in the U.S. experience urethritis each year. This includes around 600,000 new cases of gonorrhea and 3 million cases of nongonococcal urethritis, which is where the condition does not occur due to gonorrhea.

Learn more about urethritis here.

Smegma

Smegma collects between the foreskin and the head of the penis, where the sebaceous glands secrete skin oils and moisture. This combination, along with skin cells, creates a cheese-like substance that can build up over time if you do not wash your penis regularly.

Smegma is a natural lubricant that helps keep the penis moist. However, it is important to maintain good personal hygiene to prevent a foul smelling buildup that can encourage bacteria to breed and make the foreskin difficult to move.

Phimosis

Phimosis is the name for a tight foreskin, which can be difficult to pull back. Thick, foul smelling smegma can appear under the foreskin, which you may mistake for discharge. This can occur alongside swelling, pain when urinating, blood in the urine, and UTIs.

Studies of 17,136 males ages 18 years and over found that 962 had phimosis. The risk of the condition is around 3.4%.

Learn more about phimosis here.

Penile cancer

Discharge from the penis does not usually indicate penile cancer. However, it is important to contact your doctor if you notice a constant discharge that is not due to an infection or the buildup of smegma. Penile cancer can also cause bleeding.

What symptoms can discharge from the penis accompany?

Penis discharge may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying condition.

STI symptoms

Symptoms of an STI can include:

  • a burning or itching sensation in the penis
  • sores, bumps, or blisters on the penis, anus, or mouth
  • pain around the pelvis
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • a frequent need to urinate

Balanitis symptoms

Symptoms of balanitis include:

  • swollen, itchy, or sore head of the penis
  • pain when urinating
  • a foul smell
  • bleeding around the foreskin
  • difficulty pulling back the foreskin

Phimosis symptoms

The main symptom of phimosis is difficulty pulling back the foreskin. However, you may experience other symptoms, including:

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • frequent UTIs
  • blood in your urine
  • bleeding under your foreskin
  • painful erections

Nongonococcal urethritis

Nongonococcal urethritis is inflammation of the urethra that occurs as a result of something other than gonorrhea.

Alongside white or cloudy discharge, you may experience a painful tip of the penis and a burning sensation during urination.

Penile cancer

Many symptoms of penile cancer can also occur as a result of another medical condition or infection. It is important to contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • a growth or sore on the penis
  • bleeding from under the foreskin
  • a rash on the penis
  • phimosis, or difficulty pulling back the foreskin
  • a change in the color of the penis

Symptoms of more advanced penile cancer can include:

Learn more about symptoms that can affect the penis and what they might mean.

How is the cause of penile discharge diagnosed?

It is likely that your doctor will first want to rule out any possible STI that could be causing the penis discharge. Blood tests and urine tests can help confirm or rule out infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.

It is important to note that you may not have any symptoms if you have an STI. Requesting tests as soon as you have had unprotected sex can help make any necessary treatment more effective.

Once your doctor has ruled out an STI, urine and blood tests can help to detect other conditions. Further tests and physical examinations, including swab tests of penile fluid, can assist with diagnosis.

Diagnosing penile cancer

Diagnosing penile cancer involves taking a sample of the penis tissue during a biopsy and examining the cells under a microscope.

If the cells are cancerous, your doctor will arrange for further examination with imaging. This can include:

Questions your doctor may ask

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will ask you questions related to your penis discharge. These questions will depend on any other symptoms you have, but might include:

  • How long have you had penis discharge?
  • Does it hurt to urinate or ejaculate?
  • Have you experienced this before?
  • Have you noticed a rash or bumps around your genitals?
  • Do you have any other symptoms such as itching?
  • Have you started using any new detergents or soaps?
  • Are you taking any medication?
  • Are you sexually active?

How is penis discharge treated?

Treatment for penile discharge will depend on the underlying cause. This can include:

  • antibiotics to clear up infections
  • anti-inflammatory medications for inflammation
  • antifungal medications
  • steroid creams

Penile cancer treatment

It is uncommon for penis discharge to indicate penile cancer. However, if it does occur due to penile cancer, treatments can include:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy

If cancer is found early, your surgeon may be able to remove the tumor without removing any other part of the penis. However, they may need to remove part or all of the penis if the cancer is more advanced.

Surgery may also involve moving the urethra down below the legs, which is known as a urethrostomy. Your surgeon may also remove lymph nodes in the groin during an inguinal lymphadenectomy.

Radiation therapy uses high energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It may occur alongside or instead of surgery. Your surgeon will usually perform a circumcision ahead of radiation therapy, as it can result in swelling or tightening of the foreskin.

Chemotherapy for penile cancer can be topical or systemic. Your doctor will administer systemic chemotherapy drugs via injection. Topical chemotherapy is suitable for early stage penile cancer and involves applying a cream directly onto the skin to kill precancerous cells or cells that have not spread from where they originated.

Are there any complications of penis discharge?

Depending on the cause of penile discharge, there may be some complications.

Complications of STIs can include:

It is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your doctor design for you in order to reduce the risk of potential complications.

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor as soon as you notice penile discharge. They will be able to carry out tests to identify the cause and prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications as required.

You should also contact your doctor if you have had unprotected sex, even if you do not have any symptoms of an STI yet. The sooner you can begin treating the infection, the more effective the treatment can be.

Learn more

Summary

Penis discharge refers to fluid from the penis that is not urine or semen. It is usually white, yellow, or green, and it may have a foul smell.

Infections, including STIs, can cause penile discharge. Other conditions that can cause discharge from the penis include balanitis, urethritis, phimosis, and UTIs. Smegma buildup can also look like discharge.

Contact your doctor as soon as you notice penis discharge, even if you do not have any other symptoms. Blood tests and urine tests can help identify the underlying cause, and your doctor will advise on the best course of treatment for you.

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Medical Reviewer: Joseph Brito III, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 May 30
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