Jan 19, 2011

Risks Associated with Body Piercing

        Body piercing, a form of body modification, is the practice of puncturing or cutting a part of the human body, creating an opening in which jewellery may be worn.
       The word piercing can refer to the act or practice of body piercing, or to an opening in the body created by this act or practice.

Before you have your body pierced
If you choose to have a body piercing, get advice from people who have used a reputable, licensed body-piercing shop or piercer before. Ask them how much information they were given about looking after their piercing and taking jewelery out safely. Check that the staff were helpful and professional, the premises were clean and the equipment was properly sterilized.


A few days before having your piercing, visit the shop to check for any potential health risks. Make sure that you can answer yes to the following questions before going ahead:
  • Do they use a clean pair of disposable surgical gloves for each customer?
  • Do they wash their hands regularly and use disposable paper towels to dry them?
  • Is the shop clean, with wipe-clean surfaces throughout (including the floor)?
  • Do they use single-use needles and discard them after each piercing?
  • Are instruments kept in sealed packaging ready for use, or in an autoclave (steriliser) until needed?
  • Have the earrings been pre-sterilised?
  • If the piercer is piercing just one ear, will they take the earring from an unopened, presterilised pack of two (rather than using a loose earring left over from a previous piercing)?
  • Do they ask the customer if they have a medical condition such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis?
  • Is the piercer wearing clean, practical clothing, with long hair tied back?
  • Have they covered any cuts or wounds on their hands with waterproof dressings?
  • Is the jewellery used appropriate for the type of piercing?
  • Is it made of non-nickel metal?
  • Does the piercer have a clear policy regarding age restrictions and parental consent? (See box, left.)
  • Is the piercing area a no-smoking zone?
  • Are animals kept well away from the piercing area?
!! If you are taking medication, have heart disease or any other medical condition and are in doubt, talk to your doctor about the risks before getting a piercing.

! Like a surgical operation, body piercing is an invasive procedure. It carries with it the same risks and healing periods.

General risks

  • Bacterial infection

Bacterial infection is the main risk associated with body piercing. Sometimes an abscess (accumulation of pus) forms around the piercing site, which can develop into septicemia (blood poisoning) or toxic shock syndrome if left untreated. This can be very serious and even fatal. Tongue piercings carry a higher risk of bacterial infection because of the high number of bacteria already present inside the mouth.
  • Transmittable diseases

All professional body piercers use sterile instruments, so it is rare to catch conditions such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS through body piercing.
However, if you are somewhere where hygiene standards are poorer, you are at risk of infection from hepatitis (B or C) or HIV, which can be caught from dirty needles. Hepatitis is known for its resilience and some strains can live for several months on dirty instruments in normal room temperatures.
  • Other risks

Other general risks that come with body piercing are:
  • Bleeding and blood loss, especially in areas of the body with a lot of blood vessels such as the tongue.
  • Swelling of the skin around the piercing.
  • Scarring and the formation of keloid (a type of oversized scar). Tell your body piercer if you know that your skin has a tendency to form keloid scars. See Useful links for more information. 
  • Endocarditis (inflammation of heart valves), which is very serious and more common in people with existing heart valve problems.

Specific risks

Any piercing that interferes with normal function of the body carries a higher risk. Specific piercings each present their own risks. For example:
  • Oral (tongue) piercings can cause speech impediments and chipped teeth, if the jewellery wears away tooth enamel. There is also a higher risk of bleeding, and the risk that your airways will become blocked.
  • Genital piercings can obstruct the functions of the genitals, making sex and urination difficult and painful. This is particularly common with piercings on and around the penis.
  • Earlobe piercings are generally safe. A deformed ear is a rare but possible complication.
  • Ear cartilage piercings (at the top of the ear) are riskier than ear lobe piercings. If the site becomes infected, the complications are much more serious. The main risk is a painful abscess, following a bacterial infection. It happens because the skin is very close to the underlying cartilage and pus can become trapped. Antibiotics are not successful in treating this problem and surgery is usally required to remove the affected cartilage.
  • Nose piercings are riskier than earlobe piercings as the inner surface of the nose (which cannot be disinfected) holds bacteria that can cause infection.  

Preventing and treating infection 

If your body has been professionally pierced following the correct procedures , no specific aftercare is necessary.
  • Cleaning the piercing site with saline solution increases your risk of infection.
  • You will need to keep the piercing dry for three days after the procedure. If you have an ear or facial piercing, having baths rather than showers will help you to keep the piercing dry. Lower body piercings are harder to keep dry, so it may be best to sponge-clean your body for the first three days.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap before touching or washing your piercing.
  • Ensure that any clothing and bedding that may come into contact with the area around the piercing is clean.

If you get an infection

-If your piercing becomes infected, the surrounding skin may be red and swollen. It will probably hurt when you touch it and may produce a yellow discharge.
-If you have a fever or any of the above symptoms, see your doctor immediately. A delay in treatment can result in a serious infection. -Leave your jewelery in unless your doctor tells you to take it out. This will ensure proper drainage and prevent an abscess from forming.
-In many cases, the infection can be treated without losing the piercing. Minor infections may be treated with antibiotic cream, and a more serious infection may need antibiotic tablets. Your doctor will be able to give you advice about which treatment is best for you.

 Body-piercing-problems-topic-overview   http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/body-piercing-problems-topic-overview
All About Genital Piercing http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52117

East Side Medicine http://www.eastsidemedicine.net/index.cfm?fuseaction=site.content&type=aafpsc&destination=/online/famdocen/home/articles/881.membersite.html&print=1

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