Quick Reference

Preventing Infection | What is not an infection | Symptoms of Piercing Infection | Treating Piercing Infections

It is much harder to get a piercing infection than most people think. In this guide we set out to explain the different symptoms of piercing infections and how to avoid them.

Preventing Body Piercing Infections.

Body Piercings are wounds different from ‘normal’ and stay open while they heal. To read more about this process and the defences your body has about infection please read ‘how piercings heal.’ Below are a few simple steps you can follow during the first few weeks of healing to help prevent infections:

1. Think about where you are getting pierced.

Not every studio is the same and some have a better reputation than others.

Piercings done with a gun have an increased infection risk due to poor jewellery, construction and training (see here).

Piercing yourself at home will never be as hygienic as a piercing studio and fire, disinfectant, alcohol or boiling do not sterilise (only an autoclave can do this) as some bacteria will still survive.

2. Always boil the water you clean your piercing with. Preferably in a microwave.

3. Always wash your hands before touching the piercing.

4. Wash items that come into contact with your piercing. I.e. Headphones, toothbrushes etc

5. Keep things that come into contact with your piercing to a minimum. I.e.Clothing etc

6. Keep other people away from your piercings. It is also advised to avoid sharing bath towels, kissing, oral and penetrative sex (If your piercing will be effected by it).

7. Avoid large bodies of water. I.e. the sea, lakes, rivers, swimming pools and baths. If you need to use a bath be sure to clean it thoroughly with an antibacterial cleaner and rinse well each time you use it, especially if you live with others (even partners and children).

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What is NOT usually an infection.

1. White / clear / light yellow discharge. It is normal to see this throughout healing and is used up healing cells.

2. Crusted yellow coloured stuff. This is the above mentioned substance when dry.

3. Swelling. Most piercings swell in the first few weeks, some more than others. Only very extreme swelling that puts the jewellery in danger should be considered a possible sign of infection.

4. White oily / waxy, cheesy smelling discharge. This is usually found in healed piercings that have been stretched or jewellery worn for a long time.

5. Redness, discomfort and itching. Itching is usually a sign of healing, sometimes it points to other problems such as the piercing needing cleaning, salt needing to be washed off the skin, irritation, allergic reaction or rejection.

6. Bumps and spots. There are many different types that can appear on a piercing, many of which do not indicate infection and need to be treated a certain way. (Read more about this here.)

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Signs of body piercing infection.

1. Intense and un-ignorable pain: The pain of an infected piercing is bad, often similar to a toothache in that it is constant, throbs and does not go away.

2. Heat: The piercing often feels hot or warmer than normal body temperature when touched.

3. Extreme swelling: With the exception of a few piercings (Mouth and genital) puffy, ‘inflated,’ like swelling where the body part looks much larger than normal is usually a symptom. Here are some examples of extreme swelling.

4. Grey, green, or dark yellow pus: This type of discharge is usually thick, sticky or lumpy and smells bad.

5. White ‘cottage cheese’ discharge: This type of discharge looks a lot like cottage cheese and is very lumpy.

6. Soft, fluid filled bump: Bumps that appear very quickly, that are soft and leak fluid are most likely to be abscesses. They may have a yellow head. Read more about them here.

7. Generally feeling a bit unwell: You may feel a bit ‘fluish,’ like you have a cold or have shivers.

8. Feeling very ‘weird’ or overcome: You may feel dizzy, breathless or confused and have a temperature. This is a serious symptom. Please see a doctor straight away.

9.  Lines or discolouration stretching away from the piercing: This could be the sign of a more aggressive piercing infection and should not be treated at home. This is a serious symptom. Please see a doctor straight away.

10. Swollen glands: If the glands in your neck, groin or armpits become swollen or uncomfortable it could be a sign you have a more aggressive infection. This is a serious symptom. Please see a doctor straight away.

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Treating piercing infections.

If you are worried about infection you should always see a doctor. Home remedies are not a substitute for proper medical treatment. If your piercing is worse or no better after 3 days seek medical advice.

You will need to use an antiseptic spray, liquid, soap or gel. Creams are not good for piercings as they can get stuck inside creating a moist area for bacteria to breed in.

Self treatment method.

1. Do a saline soak (see here if unsure).

2. When dry apply the antiseptic thoroughly to the front and back of your piercing. If you have a mouth piercing you will need to use a medicated mouth wash.

3. The most important rule about an infected piercing is never to take out the jewellery. This can trap the infection under your skin.

A doctor, however, may request you remove the jewellery when he is treating you with antibiotics. This is because infection can get into the pores of the jewellery and antibiotics cannot reach there. Do not let this put you off getting proper help – most doctors will do their best to save your piercing where they can.

If you would like to know more about body piercing infections please read the full piercing infections guide.

If you would like piercing help we also offer a body piercing advice service, however, we’d like to state that we are no substitute for a real doctor and you should try to seek out medical help if you are concerned!

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