Piercing Infection: A Beginner’s Guide to Causes and Treatment May 11, 2020 – Posted in: Informative – Tags: , , ,

Infection is the number one enemy of your new piercing. Luckily, treatment is simple, but if left untended, small infections can lead to complications like necrosis, scarring, and piercing rejection. In extreme cases, it can lead to body mutilation or even death.

The key to avoiding and treating infection is understanding what infection is and how it works. Here’s a brief guide to piercing infections and what to do if you get one.

What is an infection?

In basic terms, an infection occurs when harmful bacteria gets into your new piercing and starts wreaking havoc. The resulting symptoms—fever, discharge, swelling—are all part of your body’s natural defense mechanisms to get rid of the infection.

When your body works to heal itself, it will pump blood toward the wound in order to bring nutrients that aid in healing. In addition, it produces a clear liquid that helps to flush out harmful microbes. (This is what causes the crusties around a healing piercing.) An infection occurs when there are too many harmful microbes for your body to flush out on its own. As a result, healing processes go into overdrive, and what begins as natural healing will turn into painful symptoms of infection.

Close up of microscope

Infections occur when too much harmful bacteria enters your body, and your body can’t fight it off alone.

You might see swelling in excess when your body directs more blood to the area to fight the infection. The clear liquid will turn yellow, green, or white as it works hard to clean out large amounts of bacteria and dead skin cells. You might even develop a fever as your body works hard to fight the infection. 

What causes infections in healing piercings?

Infections are simply a result of too many germs in an open wound. It can occur in any wound, but they tend to be common in piercings because a piercing is a wound that you keep open unnaturally.

One of the first things that your body tries to do when it receives a minor wound is to close it so that it stays free from germs. When you heal a piercing, you preclude your body from completing this necessary step, leaving your healing skin open to dirt, debris, and other infection-causing substances. 

However, your new piercing can be destined for infection even before the piercing needle hits your skin. One of the leading causes of piercing infection comes from unclean tools and bad piercing practices. Choosing a poor piercer is a sure-fire way to get a piercing infection. Make sure that your piercer uses clean tools that come from a sealed bag—kind of like when you go to the dentist—and take a look around to make sure that everything looks and seems sterile. Additionally, never use a piercing gun, since these can’t be easily sterilized and often harbor bacteria.

After you’ve been pierced, you must work with your body to help keep your new wound clean. Since it won’t scab like other minor wounds, the fragile, healing tissue will be exposed to the world. Make sure that you clean the piercing 2 – 3 times a day with a piercing aftercare saline solution, and keep your piercing away from debris, water, and other possible contaminants.

How to treat a piercing infection

If you’ve chosen a reputable piercer, and you adhere to proper aftercare practices, you most likely will see a happy healing period free from infection. However, bacteria can be relentless, and even if you do everything right, your new piercing can still get infected.

Before you rush to urgent care, keep in mind that the vast majority of piercing infections can be treated at home as long as you catch them early enough.

Even if you get an infection, proper piercing aftercare practices should clear it up without medical attention.

Simply boosting your aftercare practices until your infection has healed should clean out the infection. If you’ve been relying on saline sprays, switch to saline soaks to fully flush out the piercing. If you’ve already been conducting two saline soaks a day, bump it up to three. Be wary; too many saline soaks could irritate the piercing, worsening the infection.

Do not remove your jewelry. Your jewelry is keeping the piercing hole open, allowing the infection to drain out. If you remove your jewelry, your piercing hole could close, trapping the infection and making it worse.

Do not use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or any other non-saline disinfectant. Antibacterial ointments works wonderfully on knee scrapes, but they can cause irritation leading to scarring and piercing rejection in your new piercing.

When should I see a doctor?

While most piercing infections can be treated at home, infection is not something you want to mess around with, and you must watch for signs that your infection is getting serious.

You should see a doctor if…

  • Your symptoms (swelling, bleeding, discharge, fever) appear in excess.
  • Your jewelry won’t move.
  • Your jewelry becomes embedded.
  • The infection begins to spread.

Infections in healed piercings

Although rare, it is possible to get an infection in a healed piercing. Dirt and debris can still get in the healed piercing hole, leading to infection symptoms. If this happens, it’s much the same as treating any other infection.

It’s important to note, however, that other complications in healed piercings might occur that look like infection symptoms but are much easier to treat.

A pustule is a small, pimple-like dot that appears on or near the piercing site. This happens when dead skin cells and other debris get caught in the piercing hole. To treat, you can dab the area with saline solution until it clears out. You might be tempted to pop it like a pimple, but this could lead to further infection.

Even if you’ve never had metal allergies before, it is possible to develop sensitivities even in a healed piercing. If the skin around your piercing starts to feel itchy and irritated, becomes red and flaky, or develops a rash, it could be a sign of a metal allergy rather than an infection. You should try to change your jewelry to a purer metal (preferably without any nickel).
Infections are the most common complication when it comes to healing your new piercing. If you understand how infection works, choose a great piercer, and use aftercare products created specifically for piercings, like NeilMed NeilCleanse Piercing Aftercare Solution, then it’s one mountain that you shouldn’t have to surmount.

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