Brief: Blood blisters are a rare bump sometimes seen on body piercings. The body piercing itself is rarely the cause of the bump, however.
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Blood blisters are very rare and are often caused by an external factor such as accidentally crushing the piercing. They can occur on any piercing but are more frequent on navels and tongues. Often granulomas are mistaken for blood blisters because they can bleed quite a lot.
A blood blister is a soft round lump which is very dark in colour – often black, brown, purple or red. They can vary in size but usually, in relation to body piercings, they aren’t larger than a 1 pence or 1 cent coin. Blood blisters can be very sore due to bruising where the blister occurred.
Blisters are created when a layer of tissue beneath the skin is torn away from the layers beneath it and damaged without breaking the surface of the skin.
A pool of blood and other fluids such as lymph then gather in the space in-between the tissues caused by the tear. In a blood blister there is more blood than other fluids. This cushions the damaged tissue and protects it long enough for it to heal but also causes the surface of the skin to be pushed outwards and form a bump.
When the fluid inside has been reabsorbed (or dried) the blister will usually ‘open’ normally as the surface skin deflates and dies away. New skin tissue will have already healed the damaged area underneath to replace the deflated skin on top. Sometimes the gathered fluids can be cut off from the rest of the body and dry up, rather than being reabsorbed. This can result in a putty-like substance being left behind in the blister.
Within body piercing blood blisters are most often caused by clamps being closed on the area, causing mechanical pressure that pinches the skin. They are also caused by frostbite from the use of freeze-sprays and certain medications. Standard blisters can come from allergic reactions to other numbing chemicals or skin preparations.
The key to preventing blood blisters is to avoid undue pressure being placed on the piercing and to be aware of what is being used on / in your body. The following steps may help:
Check how your piercer uses clamps. It is considered to be bad practice to click closed the clamps so many will only hold them to keep tension. Some piercers also use elastic bands over their clamps to keep their tension while preventing accidents.
Avoid blood thinning medication, where it is safe to. Migraine medications, paracetamol, anti depressants, asprin and even some indigestion medication can thin the blood preventing it from clotting as fast as normal. This means if the piercing is knocked or slept on it can bleed a lot more than normal and some of the blood may get caught under the skin and form a blood blister.
Avoid numbing. Additional chemicals from numbing creams or sprays increase your risk of a possible allergic reaction and the formation of blisters. Freeze sprays may also give you frostbite resulting in blood blisters. Consider if these products are worth the risk.
Stretch properly. Doing massages with plugs in, forcing tapers through tight or ‘hard’ feeling places or sleeping on double flared plugs can pinch the skin and accidentally cause blood blisters. Our guide to stretching can help you avoid issues like this.
Cysts. If a cyst is pressed on it can rupture under the skin and cause a blood blister. For more information about cysts on body piercings try our guide.
Be careful with your piercing. Using new products near your piercing, or getting it caught in zips or crushing / knocking the piercing can also sometimes cause blisters.
Generally it is best to leave blisters and blood blisters alone as much as possible as their dome of fluid protects them, keeps them hydrated and allows healing cells to reach the damaged tissue fairly easily. If the blister is very sore or feels ‘tight’ this is usually because of swelling from the original trauma and can be easily treated at home.
- Keep tight clothes, hair and cosmetics away from the blister so that it is not irritated.
- To help the pain use an ice pack or pack of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel and placed on the area or ice chips held in the mouth.
- An anti-inflammatory painkiller such as ibuprofen will help to reduce both the pain and the swelling (Read the patient information leaflet or talk to a pharmacist first).
- A cold chamomile tea bag (dipped in water and placed in the fridge for 30mins) is also a natural anti-inflammatory, relieves pain and is suitable for use on new piercings so is great to use as a compress over the area.
- Aloe vera may also help without it interfering with the piercing. Aloe vera should help to relieve pain, soothe the area and generally promote the healing of the blister.
- Finally, salt water soaks can soften the blister and drain away the excess fluid inside, helping it to heal faster. Simply soak once a day as recommended for initial piercing cleaning.
You should never pop a blister. This can lead to infection as it is impossible to truly sterilise anything at home (bacteria can survive burning, boiling and alcohol) so you risk introducing bacteria to the wound, creating an infection. Popping the blister also exposes it to bacteria in your environment, as well as knocks and friction which can delay healing and make the area sore.
- If the blister pops accidentally allow it to drain thoroughly before cleaning it with a saline soak and drying thoroughly.
- It is then important to place a dressing over the blister to protect it. A hydrocolloid dressing is best as it simulates the cushioning and hydrating effects of the lost fluid. These are available at most pharmacies.
- Keep an eye on the blister for signs of infection and seek medical help if you become concerned or worried.
If a blister becomes infected it is likely to need medical treatment from a doctor such as an antibiotic cream or series of tablets. A blister may also need attention if it has not healed after several weeks.
The vast majority of blisters heal fairly quickly and without trouble so should not require medical assistance. If, however, the blister is in an area that presses or rubs then a dressing or plaster should be applied to protect it.
This guide was written with the help of many independent sources, mainly medical advice articles. If you would like to learn more about blood blisters these are a great place to start:
The Sports Injury Clinic article on Blisters: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/foot-heel-pain/blisters
The Medical Definition of Blood Blisters: http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9541
NHS Treatment Page – Blisters: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Blisters/Pages/Treatment.aspx