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Phimosis is a word that means that the foreskin is not able to be retracted, specifically because it has a narrow opening.  The referenced article discusses the care of the foreskin and the difference between a foreskin that is normal, but does not retract, and one that needs treatment.

If the foreskin does have a medical problem, the alternatives are circumcision, incision of the foreskin, or the use of steroid ointment.  The ointment is usually successful, unless there is the associated inflammation known as balanitis xerotica obliterans (BXO), which looks different.  The application of 0.05% Betnovate ointment, to the partly unfolded foreskin, three times each day for at least 4 weeks, will resolve the fibrosis in the majority of boys, without BXO.  Longer treatment courses are appropriate. 

If infection occurs under the foreskin (balanitis), antibiotics by mouth may also be needed, and more urgent surgery may be needed, particularly if the boy is unable to pass urine.  If pain is the reason for not urinating, adequate pain relieve may resolve the short term problem.


Smegma is yellow, cheese-like material that forms between the head of the penis and the inner layer of the foreskin. As it accumulates, it pushes the layers apart, enabling the foreskin to then retract.  If a yellow lump appears under the foreskin of a boy with a non-retractable foreskin, it will resolve when the foreskin starts to separate from the head of the penis.

Foreskin Adhesions

The foreskin can be unable to be retracted because it is too narrow, or it may not retract because of the attachment of the foreskin to the head of the penis that causes the entrapment of the smegma mentioned above.  The adhesions virtually always resolve without the need for medical treatment.


Paraphimosis occurs when the foreskin retracts behind the head of the penis, and is unable to be rolled back over the far end. Often the foreskin can subsequently be positioned correctly by pushing the skin from the base of the penis, rather than trying to pull the skin over the penile head.  If not resolved by this manouvre, local or general anaesthetic may be necessary, during which the swelling of the glans penis is compressed, then the head of the penis pushed back through the obstructing rim of skin. Only very rarely is circumcision necessary.

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