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Learning About Hydrocele in Children

Picture of different types of hydroceles

What is 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.

Many baby boys are born with this condition. 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 causes it?

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 are the symptoms?

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

How is it treated?

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

Your child may need surgery if:

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

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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