Q: My daughter had her belly button pierced and it got infected. How often does this happen? A: Over the last 15 years, non-ear body piercing has become more common.
Q: My daughter had her belly button pierced, and it got infected. How often does this happen?
A: In 1998, one study noted that about 8 percent of U.S. adults had some body piercing, excluding ears –– ear piercing was and is extremely common, with a vast majority of women and an increasing percentage of men having at least one ear pierced. Over the last 15 years, non-ear body piercing has become more common.
Unfortunately, medical complications of body piercing are also extremely common. These include bleeding, local skin infections and tissue trauma, such as scarring, skin/tissue tears (for example, a torn earlobe), keloids and/or bruising. It is estimated that as many as 20 to 25 percent of people who have a body piercing develop at least one of these complications.
The overall rate of body piercing complications depending on the body part that got the piercing. Some types, such as belly button piercings, have higher rates of infection, while others sites, such as ear lobe piercing, having lower rates.
Other medical complications of body piercing are also possible. For example, a tongue piercing can cause cracked teeth or gum damage. Allergic reactions to the material the jewelry is made of may also occur; although it is rare, these can even be life-threatening issues. Parts of the jewelry may also become embedded in body tissue, such as earrings becoming embedded in the ear lobe.
Even more serious infections, such as hepatitis or even HIV, are possible as well, although, thankfully, these are uncommon. Other systemic infections, such as bacterial endocarditis, have also been reported. Tetanus can occur from essentially any skin injury, so tetanus vaccination should be up to date before a body piercing is done.
Most states have some regulations for body piercing studios, which are often combined with tattoo parlor regulations, typically setting a minimum age requirement to have these done. Some states require licensing of piercing studios. Health inspections, if and when they are required, are often done at the local city/town level.
In order to minimize the risk of complications, it is important to go to a reputable piercing studio that employs well-trained people. Make sure the person doing the piercing wears gloves and uses properly sterilized needles and equipment, like utilizing an autoclave. Even better is when new, unused needles and equipment are used. Also ensure that the tables, sinks, etc. have been appropriately disinfected. When body piercings are initially done, it is likely best to use hypoallergenic jewelry.
After the procedure, proper care of the body piercing can also minimize the risk of complications. The piercing area should be kept clean and dry; anti-bacterial soap and water usually suffice for many body piercings. Using alcohol-free mouthwash and a new soft bristled toothbrush can help minimize complications after a tongue piercing.
You should not pick at, twist or tug on the piercing, and you should stay out of pools and hot tubs until the piercing has completely healed. Note that complete healing may take up to several months, depending on the site pierced.
Before getting a body piercing, be sure it is something you really want. Estimates are that 10 percent of people who get body piercings are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they have it done, and no one should be pressured into having body piercing done.
Body piercing has become much more popular over the past 10 to 15 years. Unfortunately, this has also meant that complications from it have become more common as well. These complications can be minimized by ensuring the piercing is done correctly and proper care is taken afterwards to allow healing.
Jeff Hersh, Ph.D., M.D., can be reached at DrHersh@juno.com.