Paraphimosis: Symptoms and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 22, 2024
5 min read

Paraphimosis is a dangerous condition where your foreskin gets stuck behind the head of your penis and can’t be put back into place. It happens only if you’re uncircumcised.

The foreskin is a tissue that covers the head of your penis. A lot of times it’s removed soon after birth in a procedure called circumcision.

If you aren’t circumcised, your foreskin can be pulled back to expose the head of the penis. If it gets caught in that position, it can cut off blood flow to the head of the penis. That needs to be treated right away.

A number of things can cause your foreskin to get stuck. You might pull it back to pee or to clean yourself, or during sex. Or your doctor may move it during a medical exam or a procedure, such as to insert a catheter. 

Reasons why you can’t cover the foreskin back over the head of your penis include:

Too much time retracted. You or a caregiver might not put your foreskin back in place after it’s been pulled back. If it stays that way too long, it can cause the end of your penis to swell to the point that the foreskin can’t fit back over it. 

Tight foreskin. A condition called phimosis can lead to paraphimosis. That’s when your foreskin is tight and can’t be retracted. If you force it, you may not be able to get it back into place.

Infection. This may stem from not washing well enough or from having sex. That can leave the end of your penis painful and swollen.

Piercings. Pain and swelling from penis piercings can make it difficult to put the foreskin in place after pulling it back.

Aside from not being able to pull your foreskin back over the head of your penis, other signs of paraphimosis can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration
  • Trouble peeing 

How long does paraphimosis last? 

This condition doesn’t go away until it’s treated. If the blood supply to the end of your penis is choked off, tissue damage can start within hours. 

Call your doctor right away if your foreskin gets stuck. They’ll probably tell you to come in or go to an emergency room. A doctor can diagnose paraphimosis by hearing your symptoms and examining you. 

Doctors have several ways to give you relief from phimosis. They’ll first try to ease the swelling and slide your foreskin back in place. There are several ways to do that:

  • The doctor gently squeezes the foreskin and head of the penis for a few minutes, or wraps it tightly with a bandage.
  • A medication is injected into the foreskin or applied to the surface to draw fluid out of the tissue.
  • The doctor uses a needle to make several holes in the foreskin to allow fluids to escape. 
  • Fluid can be suctioned out with a needle and syringe.

After the swelling goes down, the doctor will try to gently pull the foreskin back over the head of the penis. They may give you medicine to numb the area so it won’t hurt. Later, you may need antibiotic ointment to treat any small scrapes or tears.

If the doctor can’t get the foreskin back in place by hand, you may need a surgical procedure:

  • Your doctor cuts a small slit in your foreskin to loosen it.
  • You get a circumcision, where the foreskin is removed completely.

Paraphimosis treatment at home 

It’s not a good idea to try to treat paraphimosis by yourself. You might be able to squeeze the tip of your penis to shrink swelling and allow the foreskin to slip back over it. But you can cause damage if you force it. 

Don’t use ice to try to lower swelling because that can also slow blood flow to the end of your penis.

Paraphimosis is a medical emergency. When circulation is cut off, it can cause damage to the skin and other tissue in your penis. That could require amputating the end of the penis. 

You can prevent paraphimosis by having your foreskin removed through circumcision. Short of that, tips to keep it from happening include:

  • When you retract your foreskin to pee, to clean, or during sex, put it back in place when you’re finished.
  • If your foreskin has to be moved for an exam or a procedure, like having a catheter inserted, make sure it’s put back.
  • Don’t leave your foreskin retracted any longer than needed.
  • If you have a piercing that makes your foreskin hard to move, consider taking it out.

If you’ve had paraphimosis once, you’re at risk of having it happen again. Your doctor may recommend you have a circumcision.

Paraphimosis is when the foreskin gets stuck behind the head of the penis, cutting off circulation. It can happen when your foreskin is very tight or is left retracted for too long. It’s an emergency that needs treatment right away to prevent tissue damage or even amputation.

How do you treat paraphimosis?

Doctors first try to shrink swelling in your penis so the foreskin can be pulled back into place. If that doesn’t work, they may cut a slit in the foreskin or remove it.

Can paraphimosis go away on its own?

No. The foreskin has to be put back in place, usually with a medical procedure. 

How do you manually fix paraphimosis?

The doctor will try to lessen swelling of the foreskin and head of the penis, usually by squeezing it or using medication to draw out extra fluid. Then they’ll gently pull the foreskin back in place. You may be able to do it yourself, but you can also damage the foreskin if you try to force it. 

Is paraphimosis an emergency?

Yes. When blood flow is cut off, tissue can be damaged within hours. If you don’t get treatment in time, you could have to have the end of your penis amputated.