Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Phimosis and Paraphimosis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2024
Get the full details

Male babies are born with loose skin that covers the end of the penis. The loose skin is called the foreskin. The foreskin can be pulled back to help let urine pass normally and to wash the area.

Some male babies have the foreskin removed several days after birth. Removal of the foreskin is called circumcision.

What are phimosis and paraphimosis?

Phimosis is when the opening in the foreskin is small enough that it's hard to pull back over the head of the penis toward your body.

Paraphimosis is when the foreskin is pulled back and gets stuck so it can’t be pulled forward to cover the end of your penis.

  • Phimosis and paraphimosis are problems with the foreskin that only happen to men who weren't circumcised

  • Phimosis is normal in newborns and young boys and usually goes away without treatment by about age 5

  • Paraphimosis is an emergency—if you don’t get treatment right away, swelling of the foreskin can cut off blood flow to the tip of your penis

What causes phimosis and paraphimosis?

Phimosis is normal in babies and young boys. In older men, it can be caused by infection or long-term irritation or swelling of the foreskin and end of the penis.

Paraphimosis is caused by the foreskin swelling while it's pulled over the head of the penis. This can happen when the foreskin is left pulled back after:

  • A medical procedure

  • Cleaning the penis of a child

What are the symptoms of phimosis and paraphimosis?

The symptoms of phimosis are:

  • The foreskin can’t be pulled back toward the body

  • Pain and discomfort

  • Trouble with passing urine and having sex

The symptoms of paraphimosis are:

  • The foreskin can’t be pulled forward to the tip of the penis

  • Pain and discomfort

How do doctors treat phimosis and paraphimosis?

The usual treatment for phimosis and paraphimosis is circumcision (surgery to remove the foreskin). Doctors may also:

  • For phimosis in children, give a corticosteroid cream to put on 2 or 3 times a day and ask you to gently stretch the foreskin—this may treat phimosis without circumcision

  • For paraphimosis, squeeze the tip of the penis so the foreskin can move forward

  • If needed for paraphimosis, numb your penis and cut a slit in the foreskin so it can slide forward

  • Give antibiotics to treat any infection

For those who've had phimosis, it's important to keep the skin under the foreskin clean to keep phimosis from coming back and to prevent infection.

Prompt treatment for paraphimosis is important. Paraphimosis can become an emergency if the blood flow to the penis gets cut off.

quiz link

Test your knowledge

Take a Quiz!