The belly button can easily become infected by Candida, or other fungi – it is just the sort of warm, moist crevice that fungi like. If you have a fungal infection the belly button will look red, and the redness may extend to the surrounding skin for a few millimetres. It may be itchy.
Bacteria may also infect the belly button, often taking advantage of the damage already done by the fungi. This leads to scabbing and a yellowish discharge.
Redness may not be an infection at all – it may be caused by psoriasis, a skin disorder. On the arms and legs psoriasis causes scaly patches, but in moist areas like the belly button there is no scaliness – it just looks red and shiny. Usually, but not always, you will have psoriasis somewhere else on your body.
An American researcher has investigated the tendency of male belly buttons to fill with fluff from clothing. He found that hair on the abdomen tends to collect fibres from clothing (especially soft clothing such as T-shirts). Abdominal hair often seems to grow in concentric circles around the belly button, so the fluff becomes directed into the belly button. To prove this, the researcher shaved his belly and found no more fluff was deposited in his belly button until the hair grew back. He concluded that this belly-button fluff helps to keep the belly button clean and dry (Medical Hypotheses 2009;72:623–625).
What to Do about Belly Button Discharge
- Resist the urge to pick or scratch.
- Don’t try to turn your belly button inside-out to clean it properly – just wash it gently using water to which you have added enough salt to give it a salty taste (about a tablespoonful in a bowl, or two handfuls in the bath). If you have a shower, use the shower head to rinse it well. Carefully dab it dry.
- Don’t dab on any antiseptics, or add antiseptic to your bath water. This could irritate the skin and make it worse.
- Stop applying any creams from the chemist – they could be making it worse.
- If it doesn’t start improving within a few days, or there is a yellowish discharge, see your doctor. You may need an antibiotic cream.
- A very rare type of bladder cancer can extend into the belly button. This is called ‘urachal cancer’ and is extremely unusual. Another rare situation is a lump in the belly button from an internal cancer such as the gut or pancreas. So these are more reasons why you should see your doctor if the problem does not clear up.
First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Fiona Elliott
Last updated: December 2020