What are the symptoms or signs of an infected piercing? What causes infections and how do you to treat, heal or cure them? Get information on causes, care and cleaning tips to avoid further spreading and hasten the healing process.
Infections on piercings is not a problem of fresh or healing piercings but also old ones. You could get an infection after months or after years. Do not be surprised if this happens to you.
Popular piercing types
Piercings have become very popular especially among the younger generation. They are trendy and quite fashionable for some people.
Common types include conch, daith, dermal, earlobe, eyebrow, hip, Monroe, nostril, rook, smiley, surface, web, Labret, tunnel, ear, tragus, bridge, anti-tragus, lip, tongue, belly button, industrial, cartilage genital and those on breasts. All of them are vulnerable to infections if proper care is not taken.
These infections are usually caused by bacteria, yeast, fungi and other pathogenic microorganisms due to poor personal hygiene (such as touching them with dirty hands, using of unsterilized equipment by piercers needles, swimming contaminate water, using dirty contaminated bedding, etc.).
Furthermore, the use of wrong jewelry (too small, too big or one made from materials that cause allergic reactions) could be a possible cause.
Finally, trauma, injuries can encourage infections since they give an avenue for the bacteria, yeasts, or fungi to enter the area around the piercing through the injured areas.
How to tell if they are infected – symptoms
How do you tell if a piercing is infected or what are some of the symptoms or signs you should expect? Well, you will be able to know by the looking at various signs and symptoms you will have. Some of the common signs and symptoms you may have on both your old (totally healed) or the healing piercings include the following:
The first common symptom is having a discharge from the pierced site. You might have yellowish or greenish discharge that might have a foul smell. This pus-like discharge commonly caused by a bacterial infection. You will notice the discharge when the jewelry moves or it can appear around your jewelry. A white discharge, indicates you have a minor infection.
If you have a clear discharge, it is likely to be lymph fluid. This indicates that healing is going on well. It is unlikely you have an infection.
If you do not clean your piercing regularly, you might end up with scabs as crusting or scabbing occurs. Crusting and scabbing will often slow down the healing process and they might be infection signs on their own. Ensure you clean them well removing any debris that might be building up.
2. Allergic reaction inflammation or burning sensation
The other common sign you will notice is an allergic reaction. This will be characterized by gaping skin as well as a burning sensation. Sometimes, you might have a clear or yellowish discharge from the pierced site due to the allergic reaction.
To deal with an allergic reaction, check the jewelry material to ensure it is not what is causing the symptoms. Furthermore, ensure the jewelry is not too tight or too loose as this can irritate similar to the one of an allergic reaction. Finally, allergic reactions can also be due to the various body care products you use.
3. Swelling, redness, and tenderness
Swelling, bruising and redness are the other common symptoms you may have in case of an infection. It is normal to have some redness, tenderness, bruising and swelling immediately and for the first few days after a new piercing. Sometimes, swelling, redness, and tenderness might be accompanied by hot feeling i.e. the site will feel hot to touch.
However, if the swelling, bruising and redness does not disappear after a few days and darkens, you are likely to have caught an infection. You can relieve the swelling by cold compresses and take any anti-inflammatory medications as you treat the infection.
4. Pain and aching
Other than swelling, most infections might cause aching and pain. You will tend to have a throbbing or stinging feeling on the pierced site that can be painful.
To help deal with pain and aching, it is recommended to go for some of the over the counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen. They will help calm your nerves down as you seek further treatment.
5. Abscess and bumps
Another common way to tell you to have an infected piercing is if you have bumps or abscess on the pierced site. An abscess, which is basically “a swollen area within body tissue, containing an accumulation of pus” is caused by either poor drainage or presence of a foreign material that causes the body to defensively reaction to that foreign material.
Hypertrophic scars can also cause bumps with discharge, which, for this case, will not be pus. This is a sign you have repeatedly irritated your piercing.
In case you have bubbles or bumps you can try applying aspirin, chamomile tea bags, tea tree oil, sea soak among other home care remedies. The bump should disappear a few days.
Bleeding is not a common sign of infections you will notice, especially on old ones. However, it does occur in some cases. For new piercing, bleeding is normal but it should last for a short period. Trauma and injuries can also cause bleeding. This might not indicate any sign of infection but will potentially increase the chances of getting an infection.
If are bleeding, you can apply some pressure to stop bleeding, before going to a health care professional for further treatment. Furthermore, avoid wearing your jewelry without mirrors if you cannot see the pierced site well, and ensure they do not get tugged by anything as they can be torn away easily causing serious injuries.
7. Fever, nausea, chills, and loss of function
The other signs you might have include cold chills, nausea feeling, and fever. This is a likelihood of a more serious infection especially the bacteria or pathogens have become systematic (infected your blood). You need to see your doctor immediately for further treatment since ignoring it could cause more serious life-threatening infections.
Sometimes, you might also have a loss of function around the pierced site e.g. your tongue might slow down and make eating or taking impossible. This will also indicate you have an infection unless it is a new piercing.
It is worthwhile knowing that some of the above signs might not show especially if you have a mild infection or when they are at early stages.
How to treat heal or cures them
The moment you notice any of the signs that indicate you could be having an infection, you need to ensure you begin treating it immediately. We are going to discuss some of the common ways to treat infected piercings that will include home remedies. Here are some ways:
1. Saline solution or salt soak
Saline solution, also known as salt soak is one of the most common ways of treating any infected piercing. To prepare your saline solution at home, mix “1/4 teaspoon of sea salt per egg cup or shot glass of warm water” [nhs.uk]. Saline solution can heal minor infections or any infections at their early stages since the salt will dehydrate the pathogens that cause infections.
Once you have prepared your saline solution, you can use it to clean the area around your pierced site for about 4-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. Q-tip, cotton swabs or cotton balls can be used during the cleaning process depending on the location. If possible, you can dip the pierced part into the saline solution (if it is on an earlobe, it can easily be treated by dipping them into your saline solution).
Most piercers and healthcare professions will also recommend the use of a saline solution to clean a new piercing that has not healed completely. Even people who might be having some infections or bubbles can also use saline solution.
2. Warm or cold compresses
Warm compresses can be used to heal an infected piercing faster since it encourages more blood flow to the pierced region.
You need to get a clean piece of cloth, dip it in your warm water and apply it to your affected area. You should hold the warm piece of cloth on the pierced site until it cools. Repeat the process for about 4-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. Saline solution can also be used as a warm compress instead of water only.
Alternatively, you can use a cold compress if you particularly have a swollen, painful or aches. The cold compress home remedy will ensure any swelling, bruising or pain reduced.
When using a cold compress, ensure you do not apply ice directly on your piercing since it can damage cell tissues around the affected area. Instead, wrap the ice on a clean piece of cloth or towel then apply it.
3. Antibiotic ointments, creams, and gels
The other way to treat infections on pierced sites the use of gels, creams, and ointments.
Most people do not recommend the use of antibiotic ointments because they claim it affects drainage and slows healing. However, according to webmd.com, the “use of an antibiotic ointment has not been shown to affect healing.” You can get a prescription for the antibiotics to use in case the piercing infection is serious and the doctor has determined that its cause is bacteria.
Some of the good antibiotic ointments you should try include polymyxin B (such as Polysporin) or bacitracin. However, as you use these antibiotic ointments, stop using them in case of any irritation or piercing rashes.
For those who have reservations on ointments, they could go for antibiotic creams and gels since these two will not affect the normal drainage is thought by many people.
4. Prescribed oral antibiotics
For severe cases, doctors might recommend various oral antibiotics. You need to ensure you follow the instructions given and complete your doses. Furthermore, avoid buying antibiotics over the counter because you could not be knowing what the cause of your infection is. Also, you could be having some underlying issues or drug interactions.
In case the pierced site aches or it is painful, you could go for some painkillers such as Acetaminophen, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen) or aspirin. These medications do not need to be prescribed by a doctor. Simply buy them from a drugstore.
5. Natural remedies
Finally, on how to heal an infected piercing, you can try various natural remedies that will include putting a few drops of tea tree oil (especially if it has a bump), white vinegar, aloe vera, turmeric, calendula, and Indian lilac. You should find further information on each of these home remedies before trying them.
Most of these natural products have abilities to fight infections including bacterial ones and they will be very important. If any of the home remedies causes scabbing, scarring, rashes, itching or worsen the infected pierced site, you need to stop using it immediately.
I hope you now know what to do with an infected piercing in terms of treating, healing or curing it. We are going to discuss more about general care tips.
Besides the above treatments, you need to ensure you properly clean the affected area to avoid the spread or re-infection. The most recommended products to use in cleaning your piercing is either sea salt solution (saline solution) or piercing solution. So how do you clean them?
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap for at least 20-30 seconds to get rid of any pathogens, especially bacteria. This will ensure you do not introduce germs as you clean it.
- Dip cotton swabs, Q-tip or sterile gauze into your cleaning solution and gently begin cleaning the area around the pierced site. If you have debris formed due to discharges, they might need more time to be soaked, soften and come off easily.
- Try to clean as close to the piercing site as possible ensuring any dirt or debris are completely removed.
- Rotate your jewelry about 4 times once you are through with cleaning. While rotating it, you need to be gentle to ensure you do not get hurt since this can cause bleeding.
- Rinse it with distilled warm water before drying it using a paper towel. Avoid using washcloths or hand towels since they could be harboring some germs.
Generally, the cleaning process takes about 3-5 minutes. You can repeat the process twice to three times a day. Cleaning your piercing with antibacterial soap and plenty of running water is also recommended.
More care tips
When your piercing is infected, it is not just cleaning and treatment that is important. The general care given will ensure you heal fast and you limit any chances of reinfection. Some of the important care tips include:
- Do not remove your jewelry from your infected body piercing. Removing the jewelry might encourage the closing of the wound as well as abscess formation. Remove it only when a doctor recommends.
- Ensure clothing, hair or any other thing does not constantly come in contact with the area that has been pierced since this could introduce germs. You could loosely bandage to ensure nothing touches it and wear loose clothing.
- Avoid using strongly scented moisturizers and soaps since they can cause irritations.
- Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide since they can cause scabbing and dryness that might lead to scars.
- Avoid touching, fiddling or playing with your jewelry.
- Avoid inexpensive jewelry such as nickel. Instead, go for titanium or gold jewelry
Apart from the above infected pierced care tips, you also need to ensure you follow the instructions you were given in case you have a new one that is still healing. The DON’Ts and DOs you were given as part of aftercare will be important.
When to visit a doctor?
If your piercing does not seem to improve, the infection spreads to the areas surrounding the pierced site or you have a serious infection, you should visit your doctor for diagnosis and further treatment. Ignoring infected piercings can lead to many health risks including blood infection, damages of tissues around the piercing, scarring, and much more.