A hydrocele is a swelling in a boy’s scrotum, the thin sac that holds his testicles. It happens when too much fluid builds up inside. The condition is most common in newborns, though older boys and men can get it, too.
It may sound or look serious, even painful, but don’t worry, it won’t hurt your baby. It might even go away on its own, though you should still see the doctor about it.
A hydrocele can start before your son is born. His testicles grow inside his belly and then move down into his scrotum through a short tunnel. A sac of fluid goes with each testicle. Normally, the tunnel and the sac seal off before birth, and the baby’s body absorbs the fluid inside. When this process doesn’t go as it should, he can get a hydrocele.
There are two types:
- Noncommunicating hydrocele happens when the sac closes like normal, but the boy’s body doesn’t absorb the fluid inside it.
- Communicating hydrocele happens when the sac doesn’t seal. With this type, his scrotum may swell more over time.
Babies born prematurely are more likely to have a hydrocele.
A hydrocele doesn’t hurt. The only symptom you’ll notice is that one or both of your son’s testicles look swollen. Even if he’s not in pain, you should see the pediatrician to make sure he doesn’t have other health problems that are causing the swelling, such as an infection, a tumor, or a hernia.
The swelling from a noncommunicating hydrocele doesn’t change in size. A communicating hydrocele can get bigger during the day, and if you gently squeeze it, the fluid will move out of the scrotum and into his belly.
Getting a Diagnosis
When you take your son to the doctor, she’ll do a physical exam. She’ll check his scrotum for fluid and tenderness, and she'll shine a light through it to see if there’s fluid around his testicle.
She’ll also check to make sure your baby doesn’t have a hernia.
A hydrocele usually goes away on its own before a boy’s first birthday. If it doesn’t, or if it gets bigger, his doctor will refer him to a specialist called a urologist.
If your son has a communicating hydrocele, the pediatrician will usually recommend surgery without waiting for it to go away.
The doctor can remove a hydrocele in a brief operation called a hydrocelectomy.
Your baby will get medicine to numb his body or to put him under completely. Then, a surgeon makes a cut in his scrotum or lower belly. The surgeon then drains the fluid and sews the sac closed. Once it’s finished, your son can go home the same day.
In the days after surgery, you’ll need to keep the area clean and dry. The doctor and her team will show you how to care for your son as he heals.
After a few days, you may need to take him back to the doctor to make sure he’s healing well.