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DocSpot: Ballooning of the foreskin in young boys

Dear Dr Margaret
My son is three. I’ve noticed that when he passes urine the end of his penis balloons out. Is this normal?

What you are seeing is ballooning of the foreskin. This is perfectly normal in young boys. In a newborn baby the foreskin covers the head of the penis and is usually stuck onto it. This makes sense - it is protecting the head of the penis from damage, and from contact with faeces in the nappy which could cause soreness. It is not possible to pull the foreskin back, and you should not attempt to do so.
You may have noticed that the opening at the end of the foreskin seems small. This is normal, but it means that when an infant passes urine it is natural for the loose skin at the end of the foreskin to balloon out.
As your son gets older, the opening will enlarge and the foreskin will begin to separate from the head of the penis. Eventually it can be pulled back, and he should do this at bath time to wash properly. This separation can occur at any time before puberty. In some boys, it occurs as early as 3 or 4 years of age, while in others the foreskin remains stuck to the head of the penis until the boy is starting puberty. This is all completely normal.
Obviously, if a boy’s foreskin becomes swollen, red and painful, he should be seen by his doctor straight away, because it might be an infection. Fortunately, this is uncommon and is usually a one-off - it is unlikely to happen again.
For more information take a look at our section on tight foreskin, or watch part one of Dr Phil Hammond's penis trilogy, where he discusses the head of the penis and foreskin, how to keep it clean, and what to do if the foreskin is tight.

Last updated; Monday, July 4th 2011 at 8:49 am

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