New piercings are exciting, but it’s not unusual for a client to return a few days later in a panic because they think it’s infected. Most of the time it’s not, and it’s just the piercing healing naturally. The symptoms of healing and infection are similar, so confusion is common. It’s always best to check with your piercer first if you’re concerned about infected, but here’s how to judge if it’s infected or not.
Depending on the piercing location and style, it can take weeks if not months for it to fully heal. But most piercings look “healed” before they actually are. For roughly 24-72 hours after a piercing, you will experience redness, soreness, irritation, and swelling at the sight of the piercing. This is completely normal and isn’t any cause for concern.
A sign of infection is if these symptoms get worse as times goes on or if they linger for a while. A good idea is to keep an eye on the piercing, noting if the swelling or redness spreads or increases. Take pictures if possible to keep track of it.
While swelling is perfectly normal, it can be dangerous if it gets too bad. Swelling can cause loss of function. Excessive swelling isn’t always a sign of infection though. It could be that your piercing is too small, and just needs to be replaced with a larger one until it heals. Return to your piercer if the swelling becomes too painful or uncomfortable.
Discomfort the day of or the day after a piercing is normal. It generally takes a day or more of signs of infection to even develop. Old piercings are also unlikely to get infected unless there has been a recent injury to is.
Part of the reasons it’s hard for people to determine if their piercing is infected is because the symptoms of infection are similar to how a fresh piercing heals. That’s why it’s important to not look at the symptoms in isolation. Here are the most common symptoms of infection though:
- Redness (especially if it gets worse or spreads)
o A new piercing may be red or pinkish for a few days. If the redness gets worse or starts spreading keep an eye on it for other symptoms of infection.
o Some swelling is normal, but it should subside after a couple of days. If the swelling gets worse or appears suddenly it could be an infection.
o Your new piercing will be sensitive and sore for a few days. If you notice the pain lingering or getting worse this is a symptom of infection. However, if you have recently snagged or irritated your piercing, this could also be a cause.
o Infected piercings may feel inflamed or hot to the touch. If you touch your piercing be sure to wash your hands first.
o Some oozing is perfectly normal, and part of the natural healing process. Clear or straw-colored fluid is normal, but is the discharge is thick, whitish or colored (like yellow or green), or smelly it might be infected.
Some areas of the body are more prone to infection than others. Your professional piercer will let you know this at the time of the piercing. Navel (belly button) and tongue piercing shave a higher risk of infection.
Belly button piercings are more prone for a few reasons. First, they’re in touch-prone locations. The belly button is constantly rubbing up against clothing and other objects, which introduce bacteria to the area. Belly buttons are also warm, and sometimes damp, places, which increase the risk of infection.
Tongue piercings are especially prone to infection. Your mouth is full of bacteria, which is a big cause. Tongue infections are especially serious. Complications can cause tongue numbness or even brain infections.
The good news is that infections aren’t as common as people suspect. They’re also extremely easy to avoid. After you get your new piercing, your piercer will go over proper aftercare instructions. Make sure you listen and follow them. Different piercings have different cleaning requirements, so don’t assume you know what to do. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions either. Even if you think it’s a dumb question, we’d rather you ask.
Aftercare isn’t just about how to clean your piercings. It’s also about how to generally take care of it. For example, you should avoid sleeping on it, wearing clothing that may catch it, touching it with unwashed hands, or removing the piercing.
Another way to avoid an infection is to go to a reputable piercer. Never go to a Claire’s or mall piercer. These people aren’t properly trained, and the equipment they use often isn’t properly cleaned. Trained piercers work out of licensed studios. Most tattoo shops in Toronto have professional piercers that work in the studio.
So what should you do if you think your piercing is infected? A lot of places will tell you to go to a doctor, but the first person you should see if your piercer. Doctors, while trained professionals aren’t that great at telling if a piercing is infected. They often recommend just removing the piercing which can be bad. Removing an infected piercing can make things worse. It can trap the infection, rather than heal it.
Visit your piercer, or another professional piercer, first. These people are trained in piercers and can quickly tell you what to do. They’ll tell you whether you should see a doctor, how to clear it up, and whether or not you should remove it.
If you have any more questions or want to learn more about what piercers we offer at our downtown Toronto tattoo shop, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you and set up an appointment.