Everyone has a belly button. It’s the small fold of skin that formed in your abdomen after the umbilical cord was clipped at birth. Belly buttons can be concave (innies) or convex (outies).
Most of the time, belly buttons don’t bother you. But like any part of your skin, it can be susceptible to infection or injury. If you notice pain, swelling, or discharge from your navel, you may have an infection or injury.
Learn more about what can go wrong with a belly button.
If you have an “innie” belly button, the folds of skin can trap moisture and debris. Damp, warm, dark places are prime environments for bacterial growth. If you have bacteria flourishing in your navel, it can lead to an infection.
You’ll notice the symptoms of infection if that happens. The signs include:
- Foul smell
- Pus or other fluids leaking out
If you think you have an infection in your belly button, you should call your doctor so that you can have the area cleaned carefully. You may also need prescription antibiotics to kill the bacteria before it spread to other parts of your body.
Bacteria isn’t the only thing that grows well in an area like the belly button. Yeast, a fungus that occurs naturally on the skin, can also proliferate in your navel. An overgrowth of yeast can lead to itchy, irritated skin. It’s very similar to vaginal yeast infections or the thrush type that happens in the mouth.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
Call your doctor if you suspect a yeast infection in your belly button. They may suggest treating it with an over-the-counter, anti-fungal cream. They may also advise you to keep the area clean and dry. If that doesn’t work, they may prescribe a stronger anti-fungal treatment.
Epidermoid cysts can appear anywhere on your skin. They happen when epidermal cells get trapped and multiply under the skin, causing lumps that may be painful or tender to the touch. These cysts aren't harmful but can be annoying or uncomfortable.
If you have a lump or mass in your belly button, you should see a doctor. They can examine it and make sure it isn’t something more serious, such as skin cancer. If it's a cyst, you may need to have it surgically removed. Your doctor can likely perform the procedure in their office.
An umbilical hernia happens when there's a gap in the muscle directly behind your belly button. A section of your intestine can protrude through that gap, resulting in an “outie” belly button. Not all outies are hernias, though. Some navels protrude naturally.
Umbilical hernias are most common in babies and don’t cause any pain. In many cases, the child’s muscles will close on their own, and the hernia will go away around age five.
If the hernia doesn’t heal on its own, the child will need surgery to push the intestine into place and close the gap between the muscles. This is a common procedure with very few risks. The child will need general anesthesia for the operation, but they can usually go home the same day as the operation. Recovery takes about a week.
Adults can also develop umbilical hernias, though it isn’t very common. Surgery is the only way to repair an adult umbilical hernia. If you think you have an umbilical hernia, your doctor can help you plan for surgery.
In very rare cases, dead skin and debris can build up inside a belly button and cause a navel stone. The residue of dead skin cells, sebum from the skin, and other dirt or debris clump up and form a solid mass. The resulting “stone” can look like the material you might find in a blackhead on your skin.
Navel stones are not harmful, and they usually don’t cause pain. Your doctor can likely remove it in their office. You can prevent them from coming back by keeping your navel clean.
Caring for Your Belly Button
To avoid infection or build-up of dirt and grime in your belly button, make sure to keep it clean and dry. Soap and water are effective for cleaning the skin inside your navel. You may need to use your fingertip, a washcloth, or a cotton swab to gently clean inside any folds in your navel.
Use your towel to gently pat the area in and around your belly button dry after bathing. When possible, wear clothes made from breathable fabrics, so you don’t trap sweat and dirt between the clothing and your skin. Call your doctor if you’re concerned about any pain or swelling in your navel.