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Body Piercing Problems


Topic Overview

Body piercings

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 own normal 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 throat.
    • 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.
  • Other problems 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 swallowedClick here to see an illustration..
    • 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.
    • Jewelry in 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.
  • Damage to underlying blood vessels or nerves.
  • Scarring of the piercing site.

If a sterile technique is not used, there is a chance of spreading diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Blood infections (sepsis) can occur if a sterile technique is not used.

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 problems.

If you have a problem with a body piercing site, check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

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