What is congenital hydrocele?

Hydrocele in children: Overview

A hydrocele (say "HY-druh-seel") is a buildup of watery fluid around one or both testicles. It causes the scrotum or groin area to swell.

Many baby boys are born with this condition. It does not cause pain. The swelling it causes may look scary, but it is usually not a problem. It will probably go away by the time your baby is 2 years old.

What are the symptoms of a hydrocele in children?

The usual symptom is a swollen scrotum. The swelling does not hurt. If your child seems to be in pain, call the doctor. Pain may mean that your child has a hernia or another problem.

How is a congenital hydrocele treated?

Most of the time, all you need to do is watch for changes in the swelling. If the swelling gets bigger or if it comes and goes, tell your doctor.

Your child may need surgery to remove the fluid if:

  • Your child still has the hydrocele at age 2.
  • The swelling comes and goes.
  • The swelling causes pain.
  • The swelling gets worse.

If surgery is needed, the doctor or nurse will give your child medicine to make your child sleep. A small cut (incision) will be made in the groin area. At the end of the surgery, the cut will be stitched up. The doctor may ask you if you want him or her to check the opposite groin area for a hydrocele or other problem during the same surgery. After surgery, you'll need to care for the groin incision and watch for signs of infection.

How is a congenital hydrocele diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose a congenital hydrocele during a physical exam that includes questions about the child's health. The swelling is often easy to see, so the hydrocele is typically not hard to identify. But the doctor will want to rule out other conditions.

How can you care for your child's hydrocele?

  • Most of the time, all you need to do is watch for any changes in the swelling.

What causes hydrocele in children?

A month or so before birth, a baby's testicles move from the belly area down into the scrotum, along with a bit of the lining of the belly area. The lining shrivels up, leaving a small empty space around the testicles. This space normally closes up by the time a baby is 2 years old.

Sometimes fluid leaks into the space, filling it like a small water balloon. This is a hydrocele. There are different kinds:

  • Noncommunicating hydrocele. This happens when the space closes up and traps the fluid inside. Usually the body absorbs the fluid over time.
  • Communicating hydrocele. This happens when the space does not close up the way it should, and the fluid moves back and forth between the scrotum and the belly area. The swelling comes and goes. This problem is usually fixed with surgery to help prevent a hernia in the groin.
  • Hydrocele of the spermatic cord. This type is located higher up in the scrotum. The fluid is usually absorbed within a few months and at the latest by age 1 or 2.

What is a congenital hydrocele?

A hydrocele (say "HY-druh-seel") is a buildup of watery fluid around one or both testicles. It causes the scrotum or groin area to swell.

A congenital hydrocele is one that a baby is born with.

The swelling from a hydrocele may look scary, but it is usually not a problem. It will probably go away by the time your baby is 2 years old.

Hydrocele in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • The swelling comes and goes.
  • The swelling causes pain.
  • The swelling gets worse.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has new or increased pain.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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