Hydrocele is a condition when the scrotal sac swells up due to abnormal accumulation of fluids. It is generally harmless and may be due to a congenital factor. It may also be caused by an injury to the scrotum. It also develops in infants and baby boys. It is often painless and no significant symptoms are seen. Hydrocele goes away by itself in children. But in some cases and in cases of older men, surgery may be necessary.

When clear fluid accumulates in any body cavity, it is known as hydrocele. However, most commonly it refers to the accumulation of fluid in the scrotal sac. It is quite common in infants and newborns and it may cause anxiety for new parents. So, you must know about the symptoms of this condition before you panic needlessly.

What is Hydrocele

Hydrocele can be defined as swelling in the scrotal area due to accumulation of fluids. It is of two types: simple and communicating. When a baby is formed in the womb, his scrotal sac gradually descends downwards from his abdomen. In normal cases, the scrotal sac closes and the fluids enclosed in it is dried up by the time the baby is born. But in some cases, though the sac closes in its upper part, the body does not absorb the excess fluid. This is known as simple hydrocele.

In more complicated cases, the upper part of the sac does not close. Hence, fluid keeps draining from the abdomen to the scrotal area. This type of hydrocele is known as communicating hydrocele. It can only be managed with surgery.

Symptoms of Hydrocele

There are no major symptoms of hydrocele. However, if you have a baby boy, you may notice that his scrotum is swollen. This may be a sign of hydrocele. There is no pain.

If you notice that the swelling of the scrotum of your child changes size throughout the day, then it may be communicating hydrocele. This also is painless. When such swelling is noticed, it is necessary to consult a doctor. Physical examination of the belly and scrotum is necessary to find out if there actually is hydrocele there. In some cases, if a torch is shone on the scrotum, it can be seen to be filled with clear liquid.

In some cases, especially if in addition to fluid, tissues are seen, you may have to get an ultrasound for your child as there is a possibility of development of inguinal hernia.

The swelling caused by hydrocele tends to be more after physical activities. On the other hand, the swelling reduces after a period of rest. It is even more difficult to identify the symptoms of hydrocele in adult males. It is a painless swelling. But you may have a feeling of heaviness in your scrotum. Only a physical examination by a doctor will confirm whether you have hydrocele or not.

Though hydrocele is generally painless and harmless, it may develop complications in some cases. If hydrocele persists in children or gets bigger after one year of age, it needs to be surgically corrected. In adult males, it may compress the spermatic cord leading to a number of complications, but such cases are rare.

Where and how common is hydrocele

Though hydrocele is defined as accumulation of clear fluid in any body cavity, traditionally it refers to the fluid accumulation in the scrotal sac only. The scrotum is surrounded by a thin tissue called tunica vaginalis. If hydrocele occurs, the fluid concentrates between this membrane and the scrotum. It is observed that in children, hydrocele mostly develops on one side only, generally in the right hemiscrotum.

Hydrocele is seen in 10 to 60 boys for every 1000 full term boys. The incidence is much less in adult males, being only 10 per 1000 adult males. Though it is most common in boys, hydrocele may also develop in newborn girls. This develops in the labia or the Canal of Nuck.