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The belly button is a place where germs can become trapped and multiply. Too many germs in the belly button can cause an infection, which may lead to discharge through the skin.

Belly button discharge can have various colors and give off an unpleasant smell. There are a few different causes of belly button discharge, each requiring a specific treatment.

Preventative care may be the best way to avoid belly button discharge caused by infections.

Fast facts on belly button discharge:

  • Infections are the most common cause of belly button discharge.
  • People who have recently had abdominal surgery may be at risk.
  • Cysts are another cause of belly button discharge.
  • Treating belly button discharge depends on the cause.

There are a few common causes of belly button discharge, which are explained below:

Bacterial or fungal infections

Person's bellybutton.Share on Pinterest
While infections are the most common cause of belly button discharge, other causes include surgery and diabetes.

Leaving the belly button unclean can allow harmful bacteria to overpower the helpful ones and cause an infection.

According to a paper posted by PLOS One, the average belly button contains 67 different types of bacteria, some harmful and some helpful.

A common risk factor for bacterial infection is a belly button piercing. An open wound such as a piercing is the ideal way for bacteria to get under the skin and cause an infection.

Bacterial infections cause a discharge that has a disturbing smell to it. The discharge may be off-yellow or green in color and will often cause swelling and pain.

A fungal infection or yeast infection may cause symptoms that are slightly different. Candida albicans is a yeast found naturally on the skin that prefers dark, damp environments, including the armpits and groin.

A Candida yeast infection will often cause a rash in and around the affected area. The rash is usually itchy and red, and the discharge coming from the belly button will be thick and have an off-white color to it.

Surgery

Anyone who has recently had abdominal surgery and notices pus or liquid draining from their belly button should call their doctor. This kind of discharge may be a sign of an internal infection that needs immediate treatment.

Cysts

Cysts are hard or soft growths that are filled with liquid and pus.

A urachal cyst may be the cause of belly button discharge. The urachus is the tube connecting the bladder of the fetus to the umbilical cord. While the urachus usually closes up before a baby is born, sometimes it does not close completely.

In cases where the urachus tube has not closed completely, a cyst may then form on it later in life. If the cyst becomes infected, it may cause a cloudy or bloody fluid to leak from the belly button. Other symptoms can accompany a discharge, such as abdominal pain, fever, and pain when a person urinates.

Sebaceous cysts are also a cause of belly button discharge in some cases. The sebaceous glands release oil in the skin. If one of these glands in or near the belly button gets backed up or clogged with dirt and oil, a cyst may form under the skin.

If the cyst is infected and leaking, a thick off-white to yellow discharge will often come from it. The discharge will have a foul smell, and the cyst itself can be swollen, red, and painful.

Diabetes

Conditions such as diabetes may put a person at risk of having a discharge from their belly button at certain times. According to research in the Journal of Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology, there appears to be a link between high blood sugar and candida yeast infections.

People with diabetes often have a higher blood sugar than normal, and yeast feeds on this sugar. The yeast can then spread more easily in the body and on the skin.

Senior male patient having abdominal exam from doctor.Share on Pinterest
A physical exam is usually conducted to diagnose the cause of the discharge.

It is necessary for anyone with belly button discharge to see a doctor. Belly button discharge caused by an infection will need to be analyzed by a doctor, as soon as possible. Other signs of infection include:

  • fever
  • pain or difficulty urinating
  • sore abdominal muscles
  • redness in the belly button area
  • tenderness near the belly button

Even if the cause is known, a proper diagnosis is vital for treating belly button discharge.

Diagnosing belly button discharge involves a physical exam, where doctors assess the discharge and any related conditions the person may have. This may be enough to make a diagnosis. If they are uncertain, doctors may take a sample of the discharge or skin cells from the belly button to analyze.

The belly button should be kept clean and dry in all cases to promote healing:

Treating infections

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Antibiotic and antifungal ointments or creams may be used to treat belly button discharge.

Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotic ointments or creams. Fungal or yeast infections are also typically treated with antifungal powders or creams.

These antibiotic ointments and antifungal creams can be purchased over the counter or online. Doctors may also prescribe specific medications.

It may also help if a person limits their sugar intake, as the yeast causing the infection will likely feed off this sugar.

People with diabetes should aim to control their blood sugar as best they can, and should work with their doctor and endocrinologist to find the ideal medication and dosage to keep their blood sugar balanced throughout the day.

People who are recovering from abdominal surgery should care for their belly button and keep an eye out for any signs of infection.

Treating cysts

If an infected cyst is causing the belly button discharge, treatment may be a little more involved. The first step is to treat the infection itself, usually with antibiotics. The cyst will likely need to be completely drained as well.

As cysts typically come back unless the root is removed, doctors may recommend laparoscopic or laser surgery to remove the entire cyst and greatly reduce the chances of it coming back.

Belly button discharge is largely a preventable condition using the following methods:

  • The belly button should be cleaned each day using soap and warm water.
  • After bathing or showering, the belly button should be dried well.
  • Built up oils, soap scum, or lint should be removed from the belly button throughout the day
  • Avoid picking or scratching at the belly button.
  • Wearing tight clothing should be avoided.
  • Loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibers may help the skin breathe.
  • Creams, moisturizers, and over the counter antiseptic products do not belong in the belly button unless they are prescribed by a doctor, as oils and creams can clog the pores and create the perfect environment for germs to grow.
  • Belly button piercings may also cause a lot of trouble in some people, and the jewelry and piercing should be regularly cleaned to avoid infection.

Regularly cleaning the belly button and following some of these hygiene tips may prevent infections, as much as possible.

Belly button discharge should always be diagnosed by a doctor. The outlook for any case of belly button discharge depends on how well the treatment plan is followed and how well someone cares for their belly button.