Body piercing is very popular with both
men and women. Many areas of the body are used for piercing. Most people who
have piercings do not develop any problems.
The ears are the most
common piercing site. Most of the time, an earlobe piercing heals without any
problems. Piercing other areas of the ear usually involves piercing the
cartilage that gives the ear shape. Piercing ear cartilage creates a wound that
is harder to clean, takes longer to heal, and is more likely to become infected
than earlobe piercing.
Other popular sites include the mouth and
tongue, nose, eyebrow, navel, and genital area. Each body piercing site has its
healing time and its own set of potential problems.
Home treatment can help speed healing of the wound and prevent problems. At
first, a body piercing site may be slightly swollen. A small amount of blood or
fluid may drain from the site.
Common problems that develop from
body piercing include:
Infection of the site.
Infection of the mouth or lips may cause
speech, chewing, or swallowing problems or swelling that can block the
Infection of a nipple can scar the breast tissue and limit
the ability to breast-feed later.
The infection may be potentially
serious or life-threatening and involve the entire body (systemic).
Splitting or tearing of the skin, which may cause
the formation of scar tissue.
Problems with the
type of jewelry used, including
allergies to a metal. Make sure you use the type of
jewelry designed for your piercing site. Only use nonallergenic jewelry.
Surgical stainless steel, gold, platinum, niobium, and titanium are the only
types of jewelry you should use in a new piercing.
caused by the jewelry.
Jewelry in the mouth or lips can cause
chipping or cracking of the teeth, gum problems, and difficulty chewing or
swallowing. Jewelry can also become loose and be swallowed.
Jewelry in the navel can get caught on
clothing and linens. This constant irritation can delay healing. Navel
piercings can take up to a year to heal completely.
the genital area may cause injury to you or your sex partner. It also can cause
condom breakage, increasing the risk of pregnancy and exposure to
sexually transmitted infections. Piercings in the penis
can decrease a man's ability to get or maintain an erection.
You can reverse a body
piercing fairly easily by removing the jewelry, which allows the hole to close.
If you have not yet made a decision about piercing, it may be helpful to learn about making the choice to have a piercing and how to prevent
If you have a problem with a body piercing site, check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a
You may need a tetanus shot depending
on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
For a dirty wound that has
things like dirt, saliva, or feces in it, you may need a shot if:
You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5
You don't know when your last shot was.
For a clean wound, you may
need a shot if:
You have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10
You don't know when your last shot was.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
(anaphylaxis) may include:
The sudden appearance of raised, red areas (hives)
all over the body.
Rapid swelling of the throat, mouth, or tongue.
Passing out (losing consciousness). Or you may feel very lightheaded or suddenly feel weak, confused,
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a
bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat
any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may
quickly become very severe.
Symptoms of infection may
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Try home treatment to relieve the
Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
You may need care sooner.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Caring for a piercing site
Most body piercing wounds can be
cared for at home. If you received written instructions from the person who did
the body piercing, follow those instructions carefully. This will help prevent
problems and promote healing.
If you did not receive instructions
for care of the piercing site, try the following:
Stop any bleeding by applying direct pressure to
the piercing site.
cold pack to help reduce swelling or bruising. Never
apply ice directly to the skin. This can cause tissue damage. Put a layer of
fabric or a cloth towel between the cold pack and the skin.
wound for 5 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day, with large amounts of warm water.
piercing area, if possible, to help reduce swelling.
If you have a mouth or tongue piercing, use an
antibacterial mouthwash, such as Listerine or Scope, 3 or 4 times a day to help
the healing process. Avoid smoking, and don't drink alcohol or eat spicy foods
until the piercing site is fully healed.
Clean your jewelry with
hot, soapy water.
Use of an antibiotic ointment has not
been shown to affect healing. If you choose to use an antibiotic ointment, such
as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, apply the
ointment lightly to the wound. If a skin rash or itching develops, stop using
the ointment. The rash may be caused by an
Avoid tight clothing
over the piercing area. Tight clothing may irritate the piercing site. If
irritation develops, it is best to bandage the site. Piercing sites usually
will heal well with or without a bandage.
If the piercing site is
red or you are worried about getting an infection, remove the jewelry. Soak the
site in warm water for 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day. If it is too hard to
soak the piercing site (for example, if you had your belly button pierced),
apply a warm, moist cloth instead. If the site looks or feels worse during home
treatment, check your symptoms to find out if you need to see
your doctor. If the site does not get better after 48 hours of home treatment,
call your doctor.
How fast the wound heals
depends on the piercing site. The wound may take 4 to
6 weeks or longer to heal. Some sites may take up to a year to heal
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your pain:
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
Do what you can to help prevent problems.
Think about the following guidelines and information before making your
decision to pierce a part of your body.
tetanus shot before your body piercing if you have not
had one in the past 10 years.
Choose an experienced person to do
the body piercing. Ask the person doing the piercing what piercing tools he or she uses, how he or she cleans the
equipment, and what
safety standards he or she follows. Sterile gloves,
sterilized equipment, and appropriate jewelry should be used. A fresh pair of
gloves should be used for each procedure. Make sure that the operator
washes his or her hands before putting on the gloves.
Ask the operator to change his or her gloves if he or she answers the telephone
or does anything else during your procedure.
Check the studio to
see if it looks clean.
To prevent problems with metal allergies,
appropriate jewelry. Only buy jewelry that is surgical
steel (300-grade), 14- or 18-karat gold, niobium, titanium, or approved acrylic
products. Avoid jewelry made of other metals, particularly nickel. Many people
develop an allergy to nickel.
To protect others from disease, tell the person doing
the body pierce if you have had
hepatitis C, or
HIV. If you have hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV,
make sure any jewelry you use is sterilized before it is used and is not shared
with anyone else.
Check with your city or county health department
to find out if there have been any complaints about the studio you are
thinking of using.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.