KidsMD Health Topics

Hydrocele

  • What is a hydrocele?

    Painless scrotal swelling due to fluid around the testicle.  It may appear that one of your child's testicles appears larger than the other.  Hydroceles are often found in newborn boys, especially premature infants.  Hydroceles can also form during puberty and in adult males. 

  • How did my son get a hydrocele?

    During the eighth 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.

    Closed hydroceles

    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.

    Open hydroceles

    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 when your son's doctor presses on his scrotum. The pressure causes the fluid to flow back into the abdomen.

    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.

  • How is a hydrocele diagnosed?

    Your son's doctor will likely notice that his scrotum is swollen. Often, the testicle can't be felt because of the fluid surrounding it.

    A hydrocele can then be easily diagnosed by shining a light through the scrotum. If the scrotum is full of fluid, it will light up. The doctor may want to perform an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis.

  • How will my son's hydrocele be treated?

    Closed hydroceles usually go away with time in infants. If the hydrocele has not disappeared by the time your son turns 1 or becomes very large, he may need surgery. Open hydroceles generally require surgery to prevent future complications.

    You will see both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist before the operation on the day of surgery. Your son will receive general anesthesia, so will feel no pain.

    • A small incision is made in the groin, and the surgeon empties the fluid from the sac, then removes it.
    • The muscle wall is reinforced with stitches.

    Most children go home the same day as the operation. However, some spend a night in the hospital for observation. After surgery, your son will stay in the recovery room until he is ready to go home. Parents are welcome to stay with their children in the recovery room.

    What happens after the surgery?

    • The nurse in the recovery room will show you how to care for your son at home. He or she will also give you written instructions.

    • Most children have some pain after surgery, so your child's doctor may prescribe some pain medicine.

    • There are usually no stitches to remove. The stitches are under the skin and dissolve on their own.

    • A clear, waterproof bandage will cover the incision in the groin area.

    • Your son may shower or have a sponge bath at home. Do not give your child a tub bath or allow swimming until seven days after surgery.

    • Your son should not use straddle toys or bicycles, play sports, or go to gym class for three weeks after surgery.

    • Your doctor will want to see your son about two weeks after the surgery to check how the area is healing.

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