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Piercing Infections and Other Problems

In this segment I'm going to be addressing some common issues, causes and treatments for Infection and other problems. I think it is extremely important that I should state right from the start that this blog nor any information on the internet is a replacement for seeing a well trained and experienced piercer or a Medical Professional. I say piercer first only because a well experience piercer has dealt has a good working knowledge of dealing with infections and other problems. Also a ethical piercer is going to the first to throw up their hands and say, "This is beyond my help, you need to see your doctor." That said if the problem doesn't seem to be improving within a week or so, see your doctor regardless of what your piercer says.

 There is a great number of problems and causes that could lead a healing piercing to become infected or develop other problems. Some times out of no fault of the piercee or piercer, a healthy piercing will suddenly have problems. We are dealing with the human body and there is a vast number of things that can happen during the healing and in some cases the body simply rebels against the piercing and is unwilling to accept the piercing. 

The biggest factor involved in healing a piercing with limited problems is a good aftercare program. This will involve hot soaks or compresses with sea salt and warm water twice daily and cleaning the piercing with an antiseptic twice a day. There will always be an on going debate on what products are best but the main purpose behind cleaning the piercing is that you normally do not have an open wound on your body for an extend period of time. With some piercing that wound maybe open for up to a year and chances are you are going to make a mistake at some point. Cleaning the piercing and soaks help to keep the piercing free of foreign pathogens and help to keep the piercing holes unblocked so the body can discharge byproducts of skin production and foreign objects and  pathogens. One of the most common causes of infection or other problem is failure to remove the crusted discharge from the piercing holes or jewelry that is so tight it doesn't allow discharge. For this reason I can not stress how important it is to keep up on the cleaning until the piercing is no longer an open wound. Also not to change the jewelry to a smaller piece until after the piercing is well healed. 

Now often piercings will react in a way that seems kind of like an infect but only show one or none of the signs of infection. In a nut shell, it may not be in fact infected but it is by no means healthy. So I divided this into two parts, Infected Piercing and Affected Piercings. Infected Piercing often will needed time and additional help to fight off the infection and depending on the severity of the infection, medical treatment. Affected piercings on the other hand is often the body reacting to improper cleaning, foreign objects, abuse, improper placement or improper jewelry and once the problem is found and removed will often go on to heal with little additional care. It can be confusing to say the least but regardless both an infected and affected piercing will not become healthy without first finding the cause and removing it. 

For years I've been dealing with problems with piercings. A lot of the verbal version of my aftercare and the consultation I give is based on past experiences and trying to eliminate future problems. Even with covering all the possible causes of complications that may arise during healing, there is always something new. When someone comes in with a problem, I often will go through a list of possible causes of the problem. This can sometimes feel like an interrogation and it's easy to become defensive. A lot of the questions I will ask someone with a problem were clearly addressed in the aftercare or seem pretty self explanatory but they are key to the problem solving process. The key is to be honest. The piercer is on your side but if you messed up, they need to know it and that embarrassing information maybe the key to solving the problem. Sure it is frustrating as a piercer when you take the time to explain how to take care of the healing piercing but it's even worst when the client is unwilling to give information that could lead to solution because they screwed up. Now do not get me wrong, there is a small percentage of piercees that do everything right and still have problems. 

Infections:

infections are caused by contact with bacteria, fungi and/or other pathogen. This can be caused by contact with dirty hands,. oral contact (including your own salvia). Exchanging of bodily fluids, hair, cosmetics, oils, unwashed clothing/towels/bedding and/or submerging the piercing into Natural waters. hot tubs. swimming pools and/or unclean bathtubs. The body will then attempt to kill off the foreign pathogen and expel the infected tissue and fluids out of the body. Also the body will give off a number of signs in the infected area that it is fighting off an infection. These signs are usually a combination of two or more of the following: Redness, discoloration, swelling, heat/fever, on or around the piercing, tenderness to touch in the piercing area, pain that is throbbing and/or shooting/travels, pus and/or discharge that is unnatural in color like grayish. yellowish and/or greenish.

Now I think it is importation point out that many of these signs will also show up during the first few weeks after a piercing is done. So if you got your piercing a few days ago, do not panic, it is your body's way of making you aware of the piercing and informing you that it wish you to remove it. This will go away once the body accepts the piercing and begins to producing tissue around the jewelry.

The key to addressing an infection is to not put it off. The body may need additional help resolving the infection and putting off getting help could lead to some very serious medical problems including the infection becoming systematic.  Which left untreated could in fact kill you. Also the longer you put off getting the problem increased likelihood that the infection will worsen and spread making it much more difficult to resolve. 

Also it is very important to not remove the jewelry without additional treatment or until all signs of infection are gone. The reason is that if the body has no way of expelling the infected fluids and tissue it will kind of quarantine the area into an abscess or cyst. Which if left untreated can cause further health problems.

Often the best course of action to an infection is to give your body added help in fighting off the infection. One of the best ways to do this is hot soaks or compresses with warm water and Sea Salt(1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of Sea Salt per cup/8oz). Soaks can be done by inverting a small cup around the piercing area and letting it soak. Compresses are best done with a single uses paper product(paper towels). Soak up the mixture and then lay it against the area, re-submerge the towel when it cools so it stays warm. Both should be done twice daily for about 10 minutes and after rinsed under running water. The soaks and compresses will both clear the piercing hole of blockage and improve discharge of infected tissue and fluids. Also they will help to draw them out.

Over the counter topical creams( bacitracin, neomycin, or polymyxin B) can help. Make sure to read the packaging carefully to make sure they can be used on puncture or deep wounds. Do not use OTC petroleum based ointments. The will cause the piercing to become blocked and unable to discharge. 

There are a number of home remedies that mom taught us to use but often they are simply too harsh and may in fact prolong the infection or lead to additional problems. These would include: Alcohol. Witch Hazel. Hydrogen Peroxide. Hibiclens. Betadine. Listerine(or other alcohol bases mouthwashes) and Tea Tree oil. 

For pain, fever and swelling you can also take an inflammatory such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen,

If the signs of infection do not begin to improve or worsen after a few days, seek professional medical help.

​Affected:

There is a great number of signs and reactions that can be called affected. Sometimes the piercing will show a few signs of infection or something completely different will happen. I would have to say that the number one cause would jewelry that is of the wrong shape or size. However sometimes it is purely genetic or a foreign object has worked its way into the piercing. Often an affected piercing is a great deal harder to resolve than an infection. However the key is to find the root cause of the problem and correct it. I can not stress enough that you really should see your piercer or medical profession first hand. 

The most common is bumps that form on edge of the piercing. They can be a number of things but often have some root cause that when corrected the bump will reduce in size or go away. First off I must stress that these bumps are often your bodies way of resolving a problem and popping them will often increase the problem. Bumps come in a number of forms and often it will take time and additional care to resolve the problem. However sometimes with time they simply go away. Here is some of the more common ones:

  • Hypergranulation Tissue - This will usually form on the side but more often on the top edge of a piercing. They are a type of benign growth that forms on the edge of wounds caused by excessive trauma, moisture or infection. They form during normal healing but then the body begins to over produce tissue. Often this will cause the piercing to grow outward instead of the /normal inward course.  These will protrude from the surface of the skin, will often not be painful or tender,  red in color like hamburger, often produce a clear and sticky drainage and are prone to bleeding easily. Successful treatment is greatly different from person to person but the one that I've noticed works best is Soaks and Compresses twice daily. However if that doesn't resolve it you may want to try one of the other forms of treatment:
    • Over the counter cortisone cream as the instructions direct 
    • Applying rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine Campho-Phenique or undiluted tea tree oil twice a day for one to two weeks.  
    • Using a styptic pencil to Stop bleeding and dry out the tissue with a styptic pencil.
    • Apply a paste made from bottled or distilled water and aspirin tablets or powder for ten minutes and then rinse well, two to three times a day for two to three weeks.
  • A Piercing Pimple - There seems to be no really reliable cause for this but they will often form on or around piercing holes. They are puss filled inflamed tissue and can be really frustrating because often they will go away only to return a few moths later.  The best course of action is to help your body absorb the tissue and fight that need that we all have to pop it. Your best bet once again is to do soaks or compresses twice daily. Also lightly massaging the area, once again not popping but lightly rubbing the area and some have had success taking antihistamines. If the problem does resolve see your doctor and have them check for the possibility of an infection. 
  • Scarring - Time and time again, I have had fair skinned clients come in and state that they think they have a Keloid. Though hypertrophic scarring is possible in fair skinned people it is extremely rare. The fact is that some people are more prone to scarring than others and if you are prone to Keloids and scarring then there is always a chance that getting a piercing will result in scarring. However the chances of extreme scarring can be reduced with correct placement and jewelry. Often if a piercing begins to produce excessive or raised scarring it is caused by abuse it is receiving from the jewelry and can be stopped or reduced by putting looser fitting or different shaped jewelry into the piercing. Often there is not a way to resolve the problem short of medical procedures. Some have had success with compression therapy to flatten out the scar tissue, saline soaks with rubbing alcohol combined with applying 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, or Campho-Phenique twice daily for two to three weeks and additionally more harsh treatments but often it comes down to see your doctor. 

Other problems that are not a bump or an infection may include the following:

  • Rejection and Migration - This is when the body will begin to force the jewelry out of the body. Often the first sign of this will be redness or a scar in the shape of a line leading from the original piercing hole to the current hole. As the jewelry migrates you will begin to be able to see the jewelry through the skin. All piercing will shift or move slightly during the healing until the body gives up on rejecting the jewelry or has pushed it to a more comfortable spot. However if the jewelry is too tight or heavy or the piercing is improperly placed it will lead to migration, Also abuse to the piercing during and after healing will cause it to migrate. Usually when it starts there is very little that can be done to stop it though changing the jewelry that is of poor quality or is damaged or improper can reduce or end migration. The point of no return is often when the jewelry is visible through the skin or there has been prolonged redness around the piercing holes. Not removing the jewelry may result in the piercing area scarring or splitting. Often once the area is completely healed the piercing can be redone. Often with better placement and correct jewelry the piercing will heal fine, However understand that if the piercing migrated there is an increased chance that it will again. This is especially true of piercings that are prone to migration, surface to surface piercings and micro dermals. 
  • Embedded Jewelry - This is caused by tissue growing around the end of the jewelry usually barbells or stud style jewelry. It is usually a sing that the jewelry is not long enough for the piercing and through swelling, healing and trauma the piercing has been pulled into the piercing. If you see signs of this the jewelry should be removed and replaced with a longer piece intermediately. Especially if more than half of the end of the jewelry is inside the piercing. If put off, the tissue may encase the jewelry end and will have to be cut out.

I have to point out that everybody is different with their own combination of factors that may cause a healing piercing to suddenly go bad and this in no way is a complete list of all the problems but more of a common list. I can not stress enough that if you are having a problem you address it immediately and see your piercer or doctor. Ask question like how soon should I see improvement or get worried? What they think is causing the problem? and if you feel like you are getting the brush, go elsewhere. Often someone with limited or no knowledge will give short defensive answers and seem more interested in getting rid of you than addressing the problem.  A well trained and experienced piercer will take the time to address the root cause of the problem and try to come up with a solution. Also don't panic and jump from solution to solution, often it will take time for the problem to go away. If the solution did work or didn't work, let your piercer know. Your experience could help someone else in the future by possible giving your piercer insight they wouldn't have otherwise. 

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