A hydrocele is a condition wherein the scrotum swells up due to the accumulation of fluid in the thin sheath covering the testicles. It may not be harmful but can still cause mild discomfort and a gauche body image. Although it is commonly noticed in new-borns and children, it can even happen in adult men due to some injury or infection of the scrotum.
Hydrocele can be categorised into two types:
Although rare, in this case, the narrow passage or the inguinal ring in which the testicle is present remains open, allowing fluid to pass back and forth between the abdomen and the membrane of the testicles. The swelling in the scrotum can vary in size, depending on a person’s activity levels and the amount of fluid accumulated within it. Communicating hydroceles can often be associated with an inguinal hernia.
In the Noncommunicating form, the hydroceles form in infants when the inguinal ring closes, but fluid remains in the membrane of the testicles and the body usually absorbs the fluid within a year after birth.
When babies develop in the mother’s womb, the testicles (testes) descend from the abdomen to the scrotum through a narrow passage. A sac accompanies each testicle, allowing the fluid to surround the testicles and this sac usually closes after some time. Even if there is any remnant fluid it gets absorbed within the first year of the child. But in certain cases, the sac remains open allowing more fluid to accumulate within it. Hydroceles can sometimes be associated with a hernia.
In older children and adults, a hydrocele may occur due to injury, torsion of the testis, an infection in the testicle, or in the small, coiled tube at the back of each testicle (i.e. epididymitis) or nephrotic syndrome. Also Read: Kidney Failure: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Although it is commonly diagnosed in newborn children, certain causative factors that increase the risk of having a hydrocele includes:
- Injury or inflammation to the scrotum
- Infection, including a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like gonorrhea or trichomoniasis
Although it does not cause intense pain, the common signs and symptoms include:
- Mild discomfort at the scrotum
- Swelling of one or both testicles
- Heaviness of the scrotum
A hydrocele is usually not harmful and does not affect the fertility of an individual but in certain cases, it can be the cause of an associated dangerous condition that can be ultimately become harmful if left untreated. This includes:
- Infection or tumour which can reduce sperm production or function and affect fertility. Also Read: Testicular Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
- Inguinal hernia
Diagnosis And Treatment
If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms in your child or yourself, it is strictly asked to visit a doctor at once. The doctor usually does a thorough physical examination to analyse the amount of swelling and tenderness in the scrotum. He may also perform some diagnostics which includes:
- Transillumination, where the doctor focuses light at the swelling of the scrotum. Generally, if it’s a hydrocele it will have fluid accumulation and allow the light to pass through. If there is a tumour, it is a solid mass of tissue and does not allow the light to pass.
- Imaging techniques including ultrasound, CT-scan, MRI-scan etc.
In most cases, where hydrocele is diagnosed in new-borns and infants, the extra fluid gets absorbed by the body over a period of time. In case the swelling or accumulation is severe, the doctor usually does a small surgery to remove the fluid or drain the fluid using a needle through a small process of aspiration.