What Are the Symptoms of a Hydrocele?

Common in toddlers and less common in male adults, hydroceles sometimes don’t even need treatment, but increased swelling or pain needs to be carefully watched.

What is a hydrocele?

A hydrocele is a specific type of swelling in the scrotum caused by fluid collecting in the thin membrane surrounding a testicle. It’s quite common, especially among infants.

A baby looking over the shoulder of the man holding him.

Often the condition is not particularly painful and may require no treatment – the swelling will go away by itself in about six months to a year in most male babies. But if you do notice persistent swelling, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out other causes.

Even though it might not need immediate treatment, if you’re an adult male with a hydrocele, it’s best to make sure you’re screened for testicular cancer, as this condition can be associated with or mistaken for some of those symptoms.

What are the main hydrocele symptoms?

The main symptoms are swelling of one or both testicles as well as pain, discomfort or heaviness in the scrotum. This swelling is often painless, but generally as the inflammation increases, so too does the pain level. Again, while not typically painful, the swelling can become large enough to cause discomfort and impede natural movement.

Can hydrocele cause a hernia?

If left untreated, yes, it may cause a hernia. This occurs when a part of the intestine drops into the scrotum. This will require a surgical procedure to correct the condition.

What is a varicocele?

This condition can be easily confused with a hydrocele since both involve swelling. But varicoceles are caused by enlarged, dilated veins in the testicles and is unrelated to any fluid retention. Most men don’t experience any symptoms and never realize they have a varicocele, but when symptoms occur, they are usually in the form of a sensation of heaviness or dull aching in the testicles.

What is a spermatocele?

While a hydrocele refers to fluid retention around the testicles, a spermatocele refers to fluid collection around the epididymis – a small organ located directly behind the testes. The epididymis is responsible for transferring sperm from the testes to the vas deferens.

What are the differences between a communicating vs. a non-communicating hydrocele?

Hydrocele can be classified into two types: communicating vs. non-communicating. If a hydrocele is “communicating,” then it has an opening into the abdominal cavity. This causes abdominal fluid to pass into the scrotum and can lead to complications such as an inguinal hernia. A communicating hydrocele will change in size; it may grow smaller at night and larger during periods of higher activity. A non-communicating hydrocele is less serious and often remains at a relatively constant size.

Can a hydrocele occur in a toddler?

Yes, and the condition is quite common in the very young. About 1 in 10 male infants will have a hydrocele at birth. The majority of these cases have zero or barely noticeable hydrocele symptoms and disappear without treatment within a year. However, if the swelling begins to grow it may require surgery.

With all the similarities, it’s easy to see how anyone could confuse hydrocele vs. spermatocele or varicocele, especially since hydrocele symptoms mirror many other ailments. The key takeaway is that any persistent hydrocele or hydrocele experiencing growth should be evaluated by a doctor, as it can also be an early warning sign of a testicular tumor, or testicular torsion (a twisting of the testicles).



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