A hydrocele is a swelling or pain of the scrotum, usually caused by an injury or inflammation. It isn’t a common condition, but it is often relatively harmless. Hydrocele affects a few men, and in some cases, might require immediate medical attention.
Hydrocele: An overview
A hydrocele occurs specifically in the sheath of skin surrounding the testicle. It is quite common in male infants, but not in adult males. If an adult develops this condition, it might be cause for some concern.
It is usually not painful, but the swollen testes might cause discomfort with certain clothing, or when you sit down or exercise. Usually, it goes away on its own but if it persists for several days or weeks and becomes progressively more painful, then it might be time to visit your doctor.
What causes hydrocele?
A hydrocele is most commonly caused due to the following reasons:
- Blunt injury or trauma to the scrotum
- Injury or trauma in the pelvic region, which causes excess blood to leak into the testicles
- Pressure on the scrotum owing to cycling without a supporter/jock strap
- Infection that causes inflammation and swelling
- Certain cancers, most commonly testicular cancer
- Inguinal hernia, in which a loop of intestine extends into the scrotum through a perforation in the abdomen
- Epididymitis, an infection in the small coil of muscle at the back of the testicle
- Certain kinds of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections)
- A twisted testicle, resulting in constricted blood flow to the area. If this condition is not treated immediately, it might lead to the loss of the testicle.
When do you need to see a doctor?
The swelling is often painless and resolves itself in a few days. You might not feel pain unless you press on the scrotum with your finger. A painful hydrocele with a change in skin colour or texture is a serious matter that needs medical attention. Your doctor will run a series of blood tests and physical checks to ascertain the extent of the swelling and the possible cause(s) for it.
The checks for hydrocele normally include:
- Shining a light on the affected area. If the hydrocele is caused by a fluid build-up, then the testicle looks translucent. The light shows clear fluid surrounding the testes
- Lightly probing or pressing the hydrocele with the fingers to check for Inguinal Hernia
- Lightly probing the testicles to check for tenderness and the exact spot where it feels tender. If you experience sharp pain or if the doctor feels a lump in the area, then you might have to undergo a pelvic MRI to ascertain if there is a tumour
You may ignore the hydrocele if you notice that the swelling gradually reduces over a few days and it does not cause any pain whatsoever. However, if you have an injury to the area and develop a painful hydrocele within hours, then the doctor will need to check the area to see if blood is trapped in the skin, apart from any fluid.
Hydrocele often isn’t a serious condition, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Book an appointment with your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, and get yourself checked thoroughly to avoid any complications at a later stage.