Conditions + Treatments

Hydrocele

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What is a hydrocele?

A hydrocele is fluid around the testicles that presents as painless scrotal swelling. One of your child's testicles may look larger than the other. Hydroceles are often found in newborn boys, especially premature infants. Hydroceles can also form during puberty and in adult males.

Recurring hydroceles in newborn boys represent a channel (or tube) that connect the abdomen to the scrotum, allowing the abdominal fluid to drain into the scrotum. The majority of hydroceles in newborn males will get better on their own as the channel shrinks down. Those that do not get better on their own may require surgical correction.

Hydroceles that occur in boys during puberty (or pubertal development) are “adult-type” hydroceles. These typically have no channel connecting the abdomen to the scrotum, but simply represent over-production of fluid by tissue surrounding the testicle. If they become large, surgical correction may be necessary. It is important that this type of hydrocele be evaluated, as it may occasionally be an early sign of testicular tumor.

What is a closed hydrocele?

When the sac closes, but fluid stays in the scrotum, the hydrocele is called non-communicating or closed. This type of hydrocele is often found in newborns. In most cases, the fluid is absorbed by your son's body and goes away in time. It may take up to one year for this to happen.

If your son is older and has this kind of hydrocele, it may indicate other problems, such as infection, torsion (twisting of the testicles) or a tumor.

What is a communicating hydrocele?

When the sac does not close, the hydrocele is called communicating or open. This means that the fluid around the testicle can flow back up into the abdomen. You might notice that the hydrocele looks smaller early in the day and larger in the evening. This may be due to your child being upright all day. It may also look smaller when your son's doctor presses on his scrotum, as the pressure may cause the fluid to flow back into the abdomen.

What causes a hydrocele?

During the seventh month of fetal development, the testicles move from the abdomen into the scrotum. When the testicle travels downward, it brings a sac with it. The sac allows fluid to surround the testicle. This sac usually closes before birth, and the fluid is absorbed in the body.

Are hydroceles dangerous?

Hydroceles are not harmful to the testicles in any way and they don't cause your son any pain. Sometimes, however, if the sac remains open, a loop of intestine can push through the opening. If your son's scrotum suddenly appears very large and hard, and he will not stop crying, call the doctor right away. Your son may need immediate attention.

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