Piercing Infection Care, Cleaning, Treatment, Signs and Symptoms

by Annie Shuler

What are the symptoms or signs of an infected piercing and how to treat, heal or cure piercing infections? How do to clean an infected piercing and what are some of the infected body piercing care tips to ensure quick healing and avoid further spread of the infection to other parts of your body?

Infected piercing is not a problem of fresh or healing piercings but also old piercings. You could get infection after months or after years. Do not be surprised if this happen to you i.e. if any of your piercing types is infected.

Popular types of piercings

Piercings are becoming very popular especially among the younger generation. Of course, there are many type of piercings which 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 piercings on breasts. All these of body piercings are vulnerable to infections if proper care is not taken.

What causes piercing infections?

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These infection are usually caused by bacteria, yeast, fungi and other pathogenic microorganisms due to poor piercing and personal hygiene (such as touching the piercings with dirty hands, using unsterilized piercing needles, swimming contaminate water, using dirty contaminated bedding, etc.). Furthermore the use of wrong jewelry (too small or wrong materials) of cause allergic reactions. Trauma, injuries are also causes of infected piercings.

Infected piercing signs, symptoms or how to tell if a piercing is infected

How do you tell if a piercing is infected or what are some of the symptoms or signs of an infected piercing? Well, you will be able to know that our piercing is infected by the various signs and symptoms you will have. You need to carefully observe the piercing before to see if you can notice anything abnormal. This applies to both new and old piercings. Some of the common signs you expect to have include:

1. Discharge from the piercing site

The first common symptom you might have is discharge from the piercing site. You might have yellowish or greenish discharge that might have a foul smell. This pus-like discharge commonly caused by bacterial infection on your piercing site. You will notice the discharge when the jewelry moves or around your jewelry. If you have a white discharge, it indicates your infection is minor.

If your piercing has clear discharge, it is likely to be lymph. This indicates that your piercing is actually healing. It is unlikely you have an infection if you have a clear discharge.

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 of your infection but might be an infection sign on their own. Ensure you clean the piercing well removing any debris that might be building up.

2. Burning sensation due to allergic reaction

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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 clear yellow discharges from the piercing site due to allergic reactions.

To deal with allergic reaction, check the jewelry material and ensure it is not what is causing the symptoms. Furthermore, ensure the piercing is not too tight or too lose as this can cause irritation similar to the one of allergic reaction. Finally, allergic reactions can 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 might have in case of an infected piercing. It is normal to have some redness, tenderness, bruising and a swollen piercing 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 piercing 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 swelling by cold compresses and take any anti-inflammatory medications as you treat the infection.

4. Pain and aching

Other than swelling, most infections on piercings might be aching and pain. You will tend to have a throbbing or stinging feeling on the piercing site that can be painful.

To help deal with pain and aching piercings, 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 for further treatment.

5. Abscess and bumps

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Another common way to tell you have an infected piercing signs is if you have bumps or abscess on your piercing. Abscess, which is basically “a swollen area within body tissue, containing an accumulation of pus” is caused by either poor drainage on the piercing or presence of a foreign material that causes the body to defensively reaction to that foreign material.

Hypertrophic scars can also cause bumps which will have some discharge which will not be pus. This is a sign you have repeatedly irritated your piercing. In case you have bubbles or bumps on your piercing site, you can try applying aspirin, chamomile teabags, tee tree oil, sea soak among other home care remedies. The bump should disappear a few days.

6. Bleeding

Bleeding is not a common signs of infected piercing you will notice, especially for old piercing. However, it does occur in some cases. For new piercing, bleeding is normal but it should last for a short period of time. Trauma and injuries can also cause bleeding of a piercing site. This might not indicate any sign of infection but will potentially increase the chances of getting an infection.

If you have bleeding, you can apply some pressure on the piercing to stop bleeding before going to a health care professional for further treatment. Furthermore, avoid wearing your piercing without mirrors if you cannot see the piercing site well, 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 sign of an infected piercing might 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 piercing 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 of an infected piercing might not show especially if you have a mild infection or an infection at early stages.

How to treat an infected piercing, heal or cure piercing infections

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The moment you notice any of the signs that indicated your piercing could have caught 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 to heal such infections. So how can you cure piercing infections?

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 own saline solution at home, mix “1/4 teaspoon of sea salt per egg cup or shot glass of warm water” [nhs.uk]. Saline solution has the ability to 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 in clean the area around your piercing 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 where the piercing is. If possible, you can dip the pierced part into the saline solution (earlobe piercing infection can easily be treated by dipping them into your saline solution).

Most piercers and health care professions will also recommend the use of a saline solution to clean a new piercing that has not healed completely. Even for people who might be having some infected piercing or bubbles can also 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 infected piercing. You should hold the warm piece of cloth on the piercing 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 aching piercing. 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

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The other way to treat an infected body piercing is the use of gels, creams and ointments. Most people do not recommend the use of antibiotic ointments on a piercing that is infected 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 the cause of your infection is bacterial.

Some of the good antibiotic ointments you should try include polymyxin B (such as Polysporin) or bacitracin. However, as you use these antibiotic ointments for an infected piercing, 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 infected piercing drainage as thought by many people.

4. Prescribed oral antibiotics

For severe cases of infected body piercing, 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. In addition, could be having some underlying issues or drug interactions.

Going on with our infected piercing treatment discussion, in case the piercing aches or it is painful, you could go for some pain killers 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 your drugstore.

5. Natural remedies for infected piercing

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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 infected piercing 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 on general care tips.

How to clean an infected piercing

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Besides the above infected piercing treatments, you need to ensure you properly clean the infected piercing to avoid 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 infected piercing?

  1. Wash your hands with an antibacterial soap. Scrub your hands for at least 20-30 seconds to get rid of any pathogens, especially bacteria. This will ensure you do not introduce germs to your infection as you clean it.
  2. Dip cotton swabs, Q-tip or sterile gauze into your cleaning solution and gently begin cleaning the area around the piercing site. If you have debris formed due to discharges, they might need more time to be soaked, soften and come off easily.
  3. Try to clean as close to the piercing site as possible ensuring any dirt or debris are completely removed.
  4. Rotate your piercing about 4 times once you are through with piercing. While rotating it, you need to be gentle to ensure you do not get hurt since this can cause bleeding.
  5. Rinse the piercing 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 an antibacterial soaps and plenty of running water is also recommended.

Infected piercing 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 infected piercing care tips include:

  1. Do not remove your jewelry from your infected body piercing. Removing the jewelry might encourage closing of the wound as well as abscess formation. Remove it only when a doctor recommends.
  2. Ensure clothing, hair or any other thing does not constantly come in contact with the piercing since this could introduce germs. You could bandage to ensure nothing touches it and wear lose clothing.
  3. Avoid using strongly scented moisturizers and soaps since they can irritate the piercing.
  4. Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide since they can cause scabbing and dryness that might lead to piercing scars.
  5. Avoid touching, fiddling or playing with your piercing.
  6. 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 piercing that is still healing. The DON’Ts and DOs you were given as part of piercing aftercare will be important.

When to visit a doctor?

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If your piercing does not seem to improve, the infection spreads to the areas surrounding your piercing site or you have a serious piercing infection, you should visit your doctor for diagnosis and further treatment. Ignoring piercings can lead to a number of health risks including blood infection, damages of tissues around the piercing and much more.

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