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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Inguinal Hernia FAQ

A hernia is a sac of tissue which bulges out from the abdomen in the groin. Children are born with hernias, but may not have symptoms until they are older. Hernias occur more frequently in boys than in girls.

During fetal development, the testicles move downward toward the scrotum through a tunnel--the processus vaginalis. After the testicles are in place, the tunnel is supposed to close and disappear. Hernias form when the processus vaginalis does not close.

Girls may also have the tunnel and when it does not close an ovary, tubes, or intestines "pop out." In boys, it may be the intestines or testicle which "pop out."

Sometimes it is only fluid which "pops out" and then it is called a hydrocele--meaning "water sac." A hydrocele usually goes away by the time the child is 1 year old.

Parents usually notice the "bulge" when the baby is about 2 months old. It is not dangerous for the baby unless the intestines, ovary, or testicle get caught. As long as the "bulge" can be pushed back in, the hernia is not an emergency. If the "bulge" becomes reddened, hard, and cannot be pushed back, you should call your child's pediatrician. 

Inguinal hernias are usually repaired with surgery. This surgery--inguinal hernia repair--is the most common surgical procedure performed in infancy.

Hernia repair is typically scheduled within several weeks of when it is first noticed. Sometimes, with older children, the repair can be delayed longer. But, when there is an incarceration, the surgery must be performed quickly. An incarceration occurs when whatever has "popped out" cannot go back in.

To fix the hernia, experts at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago will make a small incision along the folds in the inguinal area. Depending on what the surgeon finds when the child is examined, the "bulge" will be closed or repaired and the other side will be opened and examined. If a hernia is found, it will also be repaired. 

Because removal and closure of the hernia sac is a surgical procedure, it requires anesthesia. But, the procedure does not require a hospital stay unless your child has some additional condition which demands post-operative nursing care.

Your child should not have food or drink before surgery. As soon as he or she awakens after surgery, your child will be given food and liquids. There will be little surgi-strips at the site of the surgery, and the only care needed will be to keep it dry after cleaning the incision site. Bathing is allowed and encouraged. Pain medications, such as Tylenol, are given if needed to keep your child comfortable the first day or two after surgery.

Young children recover quickly and so a quieter weekend with return to school on Monday is all that is commonly required.