It’s the last thing a lot of us even want to think about when we’re eagerly hopping into the chair for our next piercing, but the sad reality is that one in five piercings get infected. It sucks, and it’s definitely something most people think will never happen to them, but the numbers don’t lie. Statistically, it’s all too likely that the wrong aftercare routine will cause big problems down the line, and could even cause permanent damage.
I’m all for doing things yourself and natural remedies, but there are some cases when enough is enough, and it’s time to see a medical professional to make sure your infection doesn’t get out of hand. Here we’ll cover what an infected piercing looks and feels like, what the dangers are, and what you can try at home before seeking medical attention. Before you get a piercing, read this, and know what to watch for.
What are the Symptoms of an Infected Piercing?
Believe it or not, it’s actually kind of tricky determining whether a new piercing is infected, or just exhibiting the normal signs of a healing hole in your body. In general, here’s what’s normal with a healing piercing:
- thin white or clear discharge
Depending on your body and how sensitive you are, these symptoms can feel minor or severe, but are generally nothing to be concerned about for the first four weeks of a piercing. If things don’t start to improve, then you might want to stop in with your piercer to see how your piercing is healing, but until you see symptoms of an actual infection, there’s no cause for alarm.
So what does an infected piercing feel like? Not good – here’s what to watch for:
- numbness or tingling in the pierced area
- excessive bleeding (you should NEVER be dripping or bleeding through a bandage)
- the skin around the piercing is hot to the touch
- prolonged swelling (more than a few days is generally unusual)
- excessive pain (most piercings will stop hurting after the first week or two)
- increasing redness in the area
- thick white, green, or yellow discharge
- excessive sweating
- swollen lymph nodes
Having an infected piercing is just like being sick, and trust me, you’ll notice it when it starts.
The Dangers of an Infected Piercing
An infected piercing may seem like no big deal at first, and if you treat it promptly, it generally isn’t. However, if left to its own devices, an infection in any part of your body can actually enter your bloodstream and kill you. I don’t say this to be sensationalist or to freak you out, I say it because it’s damned true, and if you’re not taking this shit seriously, it’s time to wise up to the fact that you could be risking your life over a belly button ring.
The same is true for any infection, whether it’s in your gums or a cut on your arm, but any time you have an infected part of your flesh that is not being treated and there is nothing being done to stop that bacterial growth, the problem will only continue to spread. Once an infection reaches your blood stream, it promptly reaches your brain, it can cause abscesses and seizures. If you get lucky and the infection doesn’t make it to your brain, the surrounding flesh of the piercing is still at high risk for necrosis, whether your muscle and skin tissue will literally die and have to be removed to stop the spread.
I mean yikes guys. This is not stuff to mess around with.
Home Remedies for Infected Piercings
If you’re concerned your piercing might be infected, the very first step is to always get a second opinion. Piercers are pretty great at knowing what one looks like, but I suggest going to see your piercer and a doctor if you suspect something is up. If the symptoms are still mild, the doctor may just recommend things that you could do at home anyway, without a prescription, so don’t sweat it if you’re not keen on jumping right to the pill bottle.
Topically, you can rinse the piercing with salt water to remove any debris and flush the bacteria out. Doing this a few times a day with a good old-fashioned antibacterial wash is a great way to kill bacteria on the surface of the piercing. It’s important to make sure you’re getting to the piercing underneath the jewelry as well, so use a cotton swab to clean the post of the jewelry with saline solution as well. Rubbing alcohol is also great for sterilizing your jewelry, but of course, bear in mind that if your piercing is tender, it’s going to burn, baby.
Though essential oils should always be used cautiously, I’ve had some great success in healing wounds of all kinds with a few drops of lavender oil mixed with a carrier oil like Vitamin E, with a nice white vinegar rinse beforehand to wash away and kill bacteria. It burns, but man does it work. Again folks, this is if your symptoms are MILD, and do be cautious when using essential oils, particularly in sensitive areas near your face or genitalia.
Internally, there are a lot of great things you can eat to help your body fight off infection. Garlic is a great one, if you can stomach swallowing some chopped cloves with a big glass of water. Vitamin and probiotic rich foods are also great for helping your body stave off infection, so reach for those multivitamins to prevent it from getting worse, and be liberal with the vitamin C.
If the symptoms are still pretty minor and you’re feeling fine, taking a topical and internal approach with some simple home remedies may be all you need to knock this piercing infection back. When in doubt, consult with the professionals, and play it safe – it’s definitely not worth winding up in a hospital bed.
When an Infected Piercing Gets Serious
It’s one thing to have some nasty discharge or a bit of swelling, but if you’re feeling ANY full body symptoms like fever or numbness, don’t even consult your piercer – go straight to the emergency room. This means that your infection is likely in your bloodstream, and it at this point, very serious.
Get yourself taken care of by trained medical professionals, and let them do what they need to do to help you – this means no whining when they tell you to take out your jewelry. Prepare at the very least for a full round of antibiotics, and possibly some blood work to determine the extent of the infection.
Safety First, Sexy Second
I know it’s hard to prioritize annoying aftercare routines when all you wanna do is get on with your life, but the bottom line is that a solid aftercare routine is going to be THE thing that keeps from winding up in the ER with a big puffy piercing. Don’t skimp on the washing, don’t deviate from your piercer’s advice, and always seek medical attention if you start seeing symptoms of an infection.