Urethritis: Infection vs. Chemical (Adult Male)

You have urethritis. This means inflammation in your urethra. The urethra is the tube that drains the urine out of your bladder through the tip of the penis. Urethritis is most often caused by a bacterial infection. The infection may be from a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But other things can also cause it. These things include irritation from soap, lotion, deodorant, or spermicides. The cause of your urethritis is uncertain.

Men are more likely to have symptoms than women. Symptoms can start within 1 week to a month or more after infection. Symptoms can include:

  • Burning or pain when urinating

  • Your penis feels irritated

  • Pus coming from your penis

  • Pain and possible swelling in one or both testicles

Urethritis caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. Urethritis may clear up in a few weeks or months, even without treatment. But if you don't get treatment, the bacteria that cause the infection can stay in the urethra. Even if symptoms go away, you can still have the infection. And you can spread it to others.

Your sex partner or partners also need to be treated. This is true even if they have no symptoms. You can get infected again if they aren't treated and you have sex with them. Your partner should call their healthcare provider to be examined and treated.

Your urethritis may also be caused by things other than bacteria:

  • Chemical irritation from a product used in the genital area may cause urethritis. This might be soap, lotions, deodorant, or spermicides. Symptoms often get better within 3 days after the last time you used the product.

  • Damage to the urethra caused by vigorous sex or masturbation may cause urethritis.

  • Damage to the urethra caused by inserting an object into it may cause urethritis. This could happen during surgery in the hospital. A thin, plastic tube (catheter) is put into your bladder to let urine drain from the bladder during the surgery.

  • Long-term (chronic) urethritis lasts for weeks or months. Or it goes away and comes back. This kind of urethritis may be caused by a narrowed urethra. Or it can be caused by an untreated bacterial infection. You may need to see a specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

Home care

These guidelines will help you care for yourself at home:

  • Stop using any soap, lotions, or other chemicals that may cause irritation.

  • If you were given antibiotics, take them until they are all gone. Or take them until your healthcare provider tells you to stop. Finish the antibiotics even if your symptoms go away. This is to make sure the infection has completely cleared up.

  • Don't have sex until both you and your partner have finished all of the antibiotics, and your provider tells you that you can't pass on the infection.

  • You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, unless you were given a different pain medicine to use. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your provider before taking these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, or are taking blood thinner medicines.

  • Learn about safe sex practices and use them. The safest sex is with a partner who does not have an STI and only has sex with you. Condoms can help keep you from getting some STIs. These include gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV. But condoms can't guarantee you won't get these diseases.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If an STI culture was taken, call as directed for the result. If you are diagnosed with an STI, follow up with your provider or your local health department. You should have a complete STI screening, including HIV testing. For more information, call the CDC-INFO at 800-232-4636.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • You don't start to get better after 3 days of treatment

  • You can’t urinate because of the pain

  • Rash or joint pain

  • Painful sores on the penis

  • Enlarged, painful lumps (lymph nodes) in your groin

  • Testicle pain or your scrotum swells 

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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