Dermatologist explains what you need to know about bumps, discharge and redness in the navel.
How common is it for people to have an infected navel?
Infection of the belly button is called omphalitis. It is mostly a problem in the newborn time of life. Infection of the navel (called the umbilicus) is uncommon in adults. There are other problems that can cause redness, discharge and swelling of your belly button that you need to know about.
What are common skin rashes you get in your belly button?
Skin rashes such as psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, intertrigo, and eczema can all cause redness of the navel.
Psoriasis, seborrhea and eczema are not infections, though the belly button skin will be red, may itch and can develop scale and a foul smell that looks a lot like an infection. Psoriasis and seborrhea happen in predisposed people. With psoriasis, the skin often also shows red and scaly lesions on the elbows, knees, back, legs, and scalp. Sometimes, the redness is in skin folds, too (called inverse psoriasis). Seborrhea is a similar rash with scaly, red skin on the scalp, ears and central face.
Eczema can happen in the navel. Eczema is a general term for a number of types of eczematous rashes. These include atopic dermatitis (a genetic form of eczema) and allergic or irritation rashes, to something that touched the belly button skin, such as an allergic reaction to metal jewelry. Irritant dermatitis is another common cause of eczema. Irritant dermatitis of the navel is most commonly due to soaps and body cleansers. When they are not washed off, they can cause redness and irritation. Use gentle and hypoallergenic body cleansers to help prevent irritation of the folded navel skin, and always rinse off body soap and cleaner entirely before towel-drying your skin.
Intertrigo is an inflammation and redness that is common in skin folds, including the navel. The rash occurs because of skin fold friction, sweat and bacteria, and fungal and yeast microorganisms which all interplay to cause skin redness. People most at risk for intertrigo are those who are overweight, very sweaty, have diabetes, or who have poor hygiene.
Treatment of intertrigo involves showering more often and keeping the skin dry. Wearing loose clothing and using antifungal powders help, too. Never use corn-starch-based powders in skin folds as the corn starch provides food for skin microbes, and this may lead to intertrigo.
What causes your belly button to become infected?
The navel is an ideal location for skin infection. It is folded, sweaty, often not bathed well, and builds up dead cells and microorganisms. In fact, it is common to have foul-smelling, macerated white dead skin (belly button cheese!), dirt and lint trapped in the folds. When the resident microbes (microbiome) of the navel skin flourish out of control on this feast, they can go from friendly to infecting. Over-proliferation of these microbes can result in the germs entering deeper layers of skin. Tenderness, yellow, green or bloody foul-smelling discharge, swelling, pain, and a scab or ulcer can develop in the belly button.
A variety of bacteria and yeast naturally colonize the skin and folds of the navel. When they have an opportunity to proliferate or invade deeper into the skin, they can cause infection including impetigo. If deeper skin infection occurs, it can lead to cellulitis – a deep and spreading bacterial infection of the skin usually caused by staph or strep bacteria. Treatment of navel cellulitis will require oral or IV antibiotics.
What does it mean when your belly button smells?
Dead skin cells, sweat and the action of bacteria and yeast which break this material down will cause a putrid, bad smell. There can even be pus and moist discharge. This is why it is important to clean your belly button well during your shower. The smelly moist discharge may indicate an infection, or it may indicate that you need better hygeine practices for your navel.
What is the best way to clean your belly button?
Use a fine wash cloth to cleanse your navel. Gently massage the cleanser onto wet, navel skin. Rinse well and dry with a towel. If your navel has a lot of folds, you may need to dry with a blow drier on a cool to warm setting to get skin totally dry. Showering and bathing regularly helps prevent this problem.
Why might your belly button have a a lot of discharge?
Aside from a belly button skin infection, it is rare and concerning for adults to have a significant discharge from the navel. Usually, it is due to foreign material, such as lint or hair. It can also be due to post-laparoscopic surgical tracts or cysts from embryological abnormalities that may connect to deeper abdominal structures. Significant belly button discharge can indicate an infection, cyst or bigger problem with your health. Belly button discharge should be evaluated by your doctor.
Why might someone develop cellulitis in their navel and what are the symptoms?
Cellulitis is a deep skin infection. The navel is naturally colonized by bacteria. It is also an ideal environment for bacterial growth because it is folded and warm. Overgrowth of bacteria can lead to inflammation that creates breaks in skin barrier that allow bacteria to invade, grow and proliferate until infection of deeper skin happens.
Why might someone develop candidiasis in their navel and what are the symptoms?
Candida yeast thrives in warm, moist skin folds such as the navel. Candida skin infection is evidenced by an increase in belly button moistness, redness, and often, little pustules along the edge of the red skin (called satellite pustules). Keep the area clean and dry, and use a fine wash cloth to gently help exfoliate the dead skin. This will discourage the yeast to thrive. You can use antifungal creams and powders, but don’t use cornstarch because it is a carbohydrate, and yeast can use it for fuel.
Why might someone develop an infected sebaceous cyst in their navel and what are the symptoms?
Any part of skin with pores can develop a sebaceous cyst, including the belly button. A sebaceous cyst is actually a hair follicle that becomes blocked or closed, and then the lining cells proliferate into a cyst. We call sebaceous cysts epidermal inclusion cysts or follicular inclusion cysts. Sebaceous cysts in the navel can become rubbed or squished by waistbands of clothing. This can lead to inflammation and subsequent infection. Infected sebaceous cysts may rupture and drain. If infected, a sebaceous cyst may require treatment with antibiotics to heal the infection. These cysts can be surgically removed once the infection is healed.
There are also unusual cysts that can form in the belly button.
There are other types of cysts that can form in the navel. Some may be connected to deeper abdominal structures, and thus, not just a superficial skin problem. One such important belly button cyst is the urachal cyst. This occurs during embrologic development when a baby is forming in the mother’s womb. During this time, fetal urine exits through a small tube in the umbilical cord called the urachus. Typically, at birth, this closes off. Occasionally it doesn’t close properly and a cyst can form. This can get infected and lead to bloody or cloudy fluid from the navel.
Why might someone develop growths and swelling of the belly button and what are some of the symptoms?
Keloids can form in the navel. These are excessively large scars from surgery or piercing. They are becoming more common. Skin on the midline portion of the body is prone to keloids. These excessively large scars can be quite tender.
Other benign skin lesions such as moles, seborrheic keratosis, warts, and cutaneous horns can be seen in the navel. These typically have no symptoms.
What are cancers and other tumors that can happen in the belly button?
The navel/umbilicus has an interesting location on the body. It can develop skin cancers like other parts of the skin. More unusually, however, other tumors specifically migrate to the navel. When this happens, the first sign of the tumor may actually be a bump in the navel. These tumors can be both cancerous and non-cancerous. Tumors in the belly button can include:
- Endometriosis (benign tissue from overgrowth of the uterus):
- Metastatic Crohn’s disease: and
- Metastatic cancers from distant sites, such as the Sister Mary Joseph nodule.
What is the Sister Mary Joseph nodule of the umbilicus?
The Sister Mary Joseph nodule is a metastatic cancer sign that every medical student learns about in medical school and every doctor sees at least a few times during their career. Sister Mary Joseph, a surgical nurse for Dr. William Mayo, first described it in the mid 20th century, and it was named after her in 1960. It is a umbilical metastasis of an intra-abdominal cancer.
It is often the only indication of an early cancer and not to be missed. Cancers such as stomach, colon, pancreas, gallbladder, small intestine, ovary, uterus, cervix, urinary, and even breast and lung can present with a tumor in the navel. It is not known why early tumors tend to migrate to the navel, but it is connected when a baby is in the womb to abdominal organs and lymphatic drainage.
Can hernias happen in the navel?
Yes, umbilical hernias are another cause of a swelling or bump near the navel. They happen when abdominal tissue, including potentially intestines, bulge out through the opening of muscles near the navel. If the tissue becomes trapped, it can get strangulated, and this is a surgical emergency. Coughing, weight lifting and anything that increases abdominal pressure can cause this to happen.
At what point should you see a doctor for a belly button infection?
Discharge, tenderness, swelling or a growth should all be evaluated by your doctor.
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