Inflamed navel: symptoms, cause and treatment

An inflamed navel is an annoying complaint. In fact, the navel is a scar from the umbilical cord on the abdomen. Due to the shape of your belly button, it is very sensitive to dirt accumulation and inflammation. If you do not keep your belly button clean, an accumulation of bacteria, dirt, sweat, lotion and lint can develop in your belly button. These dirt residues, in combination with bacteria that feed on them, can lead to an inflammation of the navel. This may be accompanied by red, irritated, itchy skin. A painful navel is another complaint. Sometimes blood is also visible. The belly button can also smell. If you have a belly button piercing, all this can be further enhanced. Sometimes a stony, black mass or ball, called omphaloliths, can even form in your belly button. A smelly belly button can lead to embarrassment.

  • Navel is vulnerable
  • Causes of an inflamed navel
  • Accumulated soap residue, sweat and skin cells
  • Navel stone
  • Navel piercing
  • Touch your belly button regularly
  • Poor hygiene
  • Symptoms: painful, smelly belly button
  • Treatment of an inflamed navel
  • Urachal cyst

Navel is vulnerable

Because of the shape of your belly button, it is very susceptible to infections. Several factors can contribute to this. Due to its shape, a mix of bacteria, dirt, sweat, soap, lotions, and lint can quickly accumulate in the belly button. Some people go to the doctor because they think they have skin cancer or another skin condition in the belly button, only to discover that it is ‘just’ a build-up of dirt over many years. The navel is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. The navel is usually dark, warm and moist: ideal conditions for the growth of microorganisms. According to research from North Carolina State University, the average belly button contains about 67 different bacteria.ยน

Causes of an inflamed navel

Accumulated soap residue, sweat and skin cells

If you take a bath and use soap, soap will collect in the navel during bathing and this increases the risk of inflammation. Remaining soap residue can cause irritation. All kinds of other substances can also accumulate in a belly button, such as sweat, dead skin cells and sebum. Bacteria and fungi do the rest. Although navel infections are largely caused by bacteria and fungi, there are factors that can promote a navel infection:

Navel stone

An umbilical stone can also develop as a result of insufficient navel hygiene. This mainly consists of sebum and keratin, but also of dirt, for example textile lint and hair. In short, dried dirt and skin residue. At some point, an inflammation, infection, or open sore may develop in your belly button.

Navel piercing

A navel piercing can also cause problems. A navel piercing can lead to inflammation with complaints such as persistent pain, swelling and redness and a dark discoloration of the navel.

Touch your belly button regularly

Regularly touching the navel increases the risk of infection. Your hands are often not clean and full of bacteria. Regularly touching the navel increases the risk of bacteria or fungi entering the navel. Because the navel is often moist and warm, microorganisms can multiply quickly there and cause inflammation.

Poor hygiene

Poor hygiene is a major cause of an inflamed navel. It is important to clean your belly button thoroughly after bathing and showering and then dry it thoroughly. Be careful not to build up soap deposits in the navel, which encourage the growth of microorganisms. You should also clean the inside of your belly button once a week. To do this, you can use a cotton swab that has been soaked in pure alcohol.

Symptoms: painful, smelly belly button

The symptoms of a navel infection can vary. At first you will probably experience swelling, accompanied by mild pain and redness. You may also suffer from itchy skin in and around the navel. If an infection develops, more serious symptoms may appear, such as foul-smelling pus. This pus can vary in color from grayish, yellowish or greenish. In some cases, the navel may bleed. Occasionally, a stony, black ball, called omphaloliths, may even form in your belly button.

Treatment of an inflamed navel

An inflamed navel should not be ignored and it is best to treat it at the earliest possible stage. The doctor can prescribe an antibiotic ointment and a powerful disinfectant. If there is a fungal infection, an antifungal medication will be prescribed. It can take a long time for an inflamed belly button to heal completely. In most cases, recovery takes about six months. It may take up to two years before complete healing is achieved. This is due to the fact that the navel is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Urachal cyst

A urachal cyst (a cyst is a cavity filled with fluid) is a remnant of the embryonic connection between the bladder and the navel. Such a problem can reveal itself as a swelling below the navel. In the event of an infection, problems may arise, such as accumulation of pus that is discharged through the navel. Fluid then leaks from your navel. Surgical intervention is required to remove a urachal cyst.


  1. Hulcr J, Latimer AM, Henley JB, Rountree NR, Fierer N, Lucky A, et al. (2012) A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable. PLoS ONE 7(11):e47712. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047712

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