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.