What is a hydrocele?
A hydrocele is a build-up of fluid in the membrane which surrounds the scrotum. Some babies develop hydroceles in the first few months of their life. These may disappear on their own, or may require surgical removal.
Hydroceles can also occur in adults. They are usually soft and painless and are quite common in middle-aged men.
How does a hydrocele develop?
When a baby is in the womb, or just after birth, the testicles move from the abdominal cavity to the scrotum. Sometimes the passage which allows this to happen does not close up afterwards. This results in hydroceles in male babies.
In adults, the cause of hydroceles is often unknown, however it can develop after injury or infection.
What are the symptoms of hydroceles?
The main symptom is swelling of the scrotum. However, if you notice anything strange about the shape or size of your scrotum, consult your doctor immediately.
Are hydroceles dangerous?
Not usually. As they don't normally cause problems, your doctor may recommend that you take a 'wait and see' approach. The problem may go away on its own. An operation usually only becomes an option if the hydrocele grows to be an uncomfortable size. However, even if your hydrocele becomes large and uncomfortable, it is still not dangerous.
Can hydroceles recur?
Yes. In adults, hydroceles tend to be persistent.
How are hydroceles treated?
In babies, they are initially left alone, and most disappear on their own. If it persists after one or two years, the infant may require an operation.
In adults, a temporary solution is aspiration of the fluid. This involves inserting a needle into the scrotum and removing as much fluid as possible.
If a hydrocele keeps recurring, or if it becomes too big or uncomfortable, surgery will probably be recommended. An operation to remove the hydrocele is known as a hydrocelectomy. Surgery is rarely needed.
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