You probably don’t pay much attention to your belly button. But a little musk or some built-up grime sure will grab your attention. A slight odor coming from your navel is no big deal. A little dirt or lint is nothing to worry about either. But if you’ve noticed discharge, a strong smell, pain, or another change in your belly button, you may need to see a doctor.
Here are common belly button problems, and what to do about each one.
Dozens of types of bacteria call your belly button home. Many are harmless, but some can cause infections. That’s especially true if you cut or break the skin near your belly button or if you don’t clean your belly button regularly. Clean your belly button when you bathe and you can prevent infections. Just use soap and water and your fingertip or a washcloth.
If your belly button is “leaking” clear or colored discharge or blood, you may have a bacterial, fungal, or yeast infection. Crusty skin, strong odor, itching, and redness are also signs of infection.
If discharge and crust stick around after you wash your belly button, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a prescription or over-the-counter antibacterial or anti-fungal cream or ointment. It depends on the type of infection. In some cases, you may need antibiotic pills.
Don’t use lotion or cream on your belly button unless your doctor tells you to. Bacteria love moist, damp crevices.
A Lump in or Near Your Belly Button
Some people have an “outie.” That’s a normal bulge that you’ve had since just after you were born. But, if you feel a new lump or bulge in your belly button, you might need a doctor’s care. Here are a couple problems that could cause it.
Hernia: This condition develops when a hole forms in your belly muscles. Then part of your intestine pushes through and causes a bulge. A hernia in or near your belly button is an umbilical hernia.
Here are some signs you might have a hernia:
- Bulge disappears when you lie down
- Pain gets worse over time, especially when you lift, strain, or sit or stand for long periods
Hernias usually get worse with time. So see a doctor if you think you may have one. Most hernias require surgery.
If you have intense pain in your belly button or the surrounding area, see your doctor. You could have a severe hernia or another problem that requires immediate care.
Omphalith: If you notice a stone-like mass inside your belly button, it could be an omphalith. You can also call it an umbolith. These growths can take over the entire navel and lead to infections and other problems. They’re rare, but if you notice a new, hard mass in your belly button, see your doctor.
A Pimple-Like Lump
A red, pimple-like lump in or near your belly button could be an epidermoid cyst. It’s a non-cancerous growth that forms when skin cells don’t shed the way they should. These cysts usually develop on irritated or injured skin. They can arise anywhere on your body, but they’re most common on the torso, face, and neck.
Epidermoid cysts aren’t always a problem. They might even go away on their own. But, you might have:
- Thick, yellow, smelly discharge
- Swelling, redness, tenderness
If you think you have an epidermoid cyst, have your doctor check it out to see if you need treatment. If your cyst ruptures or is painful, call the doctor right away.
Redness, Heat, or Swelling Near a Piercing
If you have a piercing, your belly button needs extra attention. You can develop an infection no matter how long you’ve had that extra hole.
Wash your belly button regularly, and you’ll reduce your odds of infection. Wet a washcloth with a saltwater solution and gently dab it on the piercing. Then pat your belly button dry with a clean towel or cloth.
Look out for these tell-tale signs of infection:
- Skin that’s hot to the touch
If you see these signs, see a doctor right away. You might need antibiotics.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: “How to Clean Your Belly Button.”
The Public Science Lab / North Carolina State University: “Belly Button Biodiversity.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Ventral Hernia.”
Nemours Children’s Health System/KidsHealth.org: “Why Do I Have a Belly Button?”
Mayo Clinic: “Epidermoid Cysts.”