When body piercings go wrong

Body piercings have become increasingly popular among young people in the United States, especially in recent years. It is important that health professionals understand the problems that piercings can cause, according to a recent Northwestern Medicine paper, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.

The paper reviews, in detail, the complications and medical consequences of body piercing, focusing on ear, nose, mouth, nipple, navel and male and female genitalia piercings. The paper also offers suggestions on how to minimize and possibly prevent these complications.

Slideshow: Common piercing complications

While body piercing is fairly safe overall, bacterial infection is the number one complication, affecting about 20 percent of body piercings, according to the review. Other body piercing complications include allergies, loss of blood, scarring, and interference with medical procedures, such as MRI, x-ray or ultrasound.  “As piercing becomes more popular, the health care community should become familiar with how to remove the jewelry, in the case of an emergency situation, as well as understand piercing complications and related health risks,” said Jaimee Holbrook, M.D. first author and research fellow in dermatology at Northwestern.

The review article was written at the same time as the Feinberg researchers, along with researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, were conducting a trial on an assisted technology that uses magnetic tongue studs to assist people with quadriplegia to use computers and drive their own wheelchairs.

There are minimal regulations on who can pierce body parts and no validated guidelines on how it should be done, so besides reviewing the latest medical literature on piercings, the Feinberg team visited local piercing parlors to talk with industry professionals and watch them work.

“Since we are using piercings to attach magnets to the tongues of people with quadriplegia, we need to be aware of what difficulties to expect in order to minimize the risks of serious complications,” said Julia Minocha, M.D., second author and a resident in Feinberg’s department of dermatology. “Who knows what other anatomic sites for piercings could be used in the future? If a sensor in the tongue can be used to drive a wheelchair, other devices that we haven’t even thought of yet might also work.”

Nine things to consider before getting a piercing:

  1. Infection: Do you have a preexisting infection?
  2. Medical issues: Do you have a history of asthma, hives or severe allergic reactions?
  3. Lifestyle: Will you have to remove the piercing for work or contact sports?
  4. Healing issues: Do you have a predisposition to hypertrophic or keloid scarring?
  5. Anatomy: Do you have the right anatomy for the piercing you want?
  6. Professional: Has your piercer been adequately trained?
  7. Medical history: Does the piercer take a complete medical history, including a history of allergies, systemic diseases, particularly inquiring about cardiac disease, unregulated diabetes mellitus or other conditions that may predispose to infection?
  8. Proper materials: Does the piercer use the appropriate, site-specific materials, such as nickel-free jewelry, to minimize the risks of allergy, infection, migration and rejection?
  9. Care instructions:  Will you receive clear oral and written aftercare instructions? For tongue piercings, it is important to avoid aspirin for seven days and all other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for at least one day before a piercing procedure and for seven days after the event. Aspirin and NSAIDS are known to increase bleeding.

Source:  Erin White, Northwestern Newcenter


  1. Advokat
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I just passed the post on to my daughter. She has been talking about getting pierced for the past month, so the list of what to consider will probably help her a lot :)

  2. Kristopher C. Adolph DC
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    With all the government regulations in the health care industry today, it is a little surprising to me to hear that there is minimal regulation for piercings.

  3. Anita
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I dont want get pierced so i passed this article to few of my friends aswell.

  4. Janet@whiteskinspotsonskin
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Skin Piercings have been around for centuries and has been used in cultural ceremonies by many native cultures. It is becoming more widespread today among teens and even baby boomers alike.

  5. George Watson
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    My sister has really got into piercing over the last year. Ears, nose and now her lip. I think she’s gone overboard and the piercings look ugly.

  6. Sue Dawson
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    As with tatooing, I think a lot of people body piercing will be regretful later on in life.

  7. Alan Davies
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    A good friend of mine has just got a nose ring put in, and I think it’s stupid. It’s hard to look him in the eye when talking as the nose ring distracts you.

  8. Ray Harris
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    I too have sent a link of this page to both of my daughters.

  9. Hellen McGee
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I hate the look of the hole rings that young people put in thier earlobes. Some of them are nearly an inch across, and I’ve been told that if they remove them the hole will never reheal.

  10. danareynolds512
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Body piercing can lead to an infection. This post can help a lot to those people who love to be pierced.

  11. tattoo parlors in Charlotte NC
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    As long as you get your piercing done by a professional body piercer using sterile equipment and having a clean workplace, serious complications after the procedure will be minimal. However, as with any medical procedure, there is no absolute guarantee that it will be free from complications.

  12. Daniel Tyler
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I know this may sound crazy, but I work with a fellow who has a piercing inside of his nose and he does seem to have a little trouble with it.
    He continually is trying to increase the size if the holes in his ears(definitely not ear rings anymore) but he says he has to once in a while stop because something on the ear might break, I guess he is talking about the earlobe? Not sure about that one.

  13. Wedding Ring Blog
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Piercings don’t bother me at all, although I am not one to get multiple. I do wonder about those BIG ear plugs. What happens when the wearer gets sick of them?

  14. Imyours
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    This is something that everyone considering to have a body piercing should read first. Young people in general tend to believe that piercing somehow makes them more attractive or nonconformists and totally forget about the way they will look as growing older with all those wholes or scars that remain.

  15. jim (the heartburn home remedies guy)
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    this article on piercings gone wrong sure is an eye opener. im glad none of my kids ever decided to get anything other than an ear pierced.

  16. Lana
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    It is important to be educated on the risks associated with piercings and how you can avoid piercing infection.

  17. Sophie Lees
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    Nice sharing. Great post. It’s worth reading.

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