tumblr_m265hp5nZn1qigj88o1_500By now everybody who followed the The Steel Within Us articles, knows that the trend of body piercings other than the earlobe has widely increased in the last decade.  Unfortunately, for every pleasure there’s a downside.  This article will focus on the medical risks involved when opting for a body piercing. Keeping in mind that several people who opt for piercings never experienced complications, one must always be aware of the risks involved.

Body Jewellery

Rings, studs, hoops or barbell-shaped ornaments are the most commonly body jewelry available on the market.  The size and shape of the jewelry is dependent upon the users’ personal choice. It’s always wise to choose body jewelry which is adapted for the piercing site.  For example, using an ear piercing ring on your eyebrow (which yes I’ve seen people doing that) might come to haunt you when someone accidentally tears it off.


Allergic reactions is one of the most common issues which affects users. Without going into huge details with regards to what causes allergic reactions, one should blame having allergic reactions on his immune system, specifically immunoglobulin E (IgE in short).  What happens is, the IgE releases chemicals known as mediators such as histamine to fight the foreign body present in the system.  The allergic reaction sets in due to the secondary effects caused on tissues and organs by the mediators. The rate at which an allergy manifests is dependent upon the rate at which mediators are released.  Allergies are unique to you and sometimes allergic reactions may also arise due to prolonged exposure to factors present around us.

The majority of body piercings are made of metal, mainly stainless steel, silver, gold or titanium.  The first step to avoid such an issue is to confirm whether or not your skin is allergic to any of the metals mentioned.  That’s only part of the problem.  In fact, the element most commonly responsible for allergic reactions in body piercings is Nickel.

Nickel is combined with other metals to improve durability and strength in alloys.  Nickel containing products can be found everywhere, from piercings to zippers and eye glass frames.  Symptoms usually arise within 6 to 24 hours following exposure.1

These include:

•    Itching
•    Redness
•    Rashes
•    Skin Swelling
•    Dry Patches
•    Blisters – may break forming scale-like skin and crusts

If a nickel allergy exposure is left untreated, the skin may become dark, leathery and cracked.  Sweating may also make the allergy worse, since the sweat may carry the nickel particles present on the allergic site which in turn causes different sites to suffer from the same symptoms.
Always contact a doctor when suspecting an allergic reaction.


A doctor will normally deduce you are suffering from a nickel allergy by investigating the symptoms.  A dermatologist can also perform a skin patch test to see what allergens are causing the skin allergies.  Allergens are basically common elements which cause allergic reactions such as wool alcohol, nickel and paraben.  Reactions will normally occur in 48 hours which the dermatologist can then further investigate to determine the degree of allergy.

Depending on the severity, in mild cases a hydrocortisone cream is given to treat the rash whereas in more severe cases the doctor will definitely prescribe antihistamine tablets to treat.  Whatever the case never self medicate allergic symptoms and always talk to a doctor first.

Unfortunately, once a nickel allergy develops, one must live with it his whole life.  Like any other condition, nickel allergy can always be kept under control.  Listed below are ways how to tackle this issue:
•    Avoid contact with nickel containing objects
•    Ask for surgical-grade stainless steel instruments if you are getting a new piercing or tattoo.
•    Avoid piercing guns as they may contain nickel, which might cause bacterial infections within the piercing site.
•    Choose piercings made from surgical-grade stainless steel or 14 karat or higher yellow gold.
•    Avoid white gold as it might contain nickel.
•    Pure sterling silver, titanium, copper and platinum are all nickel free.
•    Poly-carbonate plastic and wood are also a safe option.
•    In cases of severe nickel allergies, avoid nickel containing foods such as fish and chocolate.

Nasal Piercings2

The nose can be pierced through the fleshy areas or the cartilaginous nasal septum.  Septum piercings might cause severe bleeding which may lead to septal hematoma followed by infection.  Other complications which may result in nasal deformity include perichondritis and necrosis of the cartilage wall.

Infections are normally caused by microbes known asStaphylococcus Aureus.  They are normally responsible for minor skin infections and formations of white heads on the body.   Staphylococcus Aureus colonize the nasal mucosa, which makes it easier for the microbes to infect nasal piercing areas.  To make things worse, 1% of the total population happen to be carriers of the super bug MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).  To treat such infections, one must visit immediately their doctor so they can be given strong wide spectrum antibiotics to fight the infection before it spreads in the bloodstream.

Other risks involved with nasal piercings include the risk of being aspirated or pulled out.  Pulling out a piercing with blunt force may cause nasal disfigurement, severe blood loss and infection.

Lip, Cheek and Tongue Piercings

Being one of the most trendy sites for piercings, oral piercings carry their own track record with regards to complications.  As reported by the dentistry community, the popularity of lip and tongue piercings have increased ten fold in the last decade.  The tongue is the preferred site, pierced right through the mid line, anterior to the lingual frenum.  For the majority who actually either skipped it or asked themselves what the lingual frenum is, it’s the thread found under our tongue which prevents us from choking on our own tongue.

There are two types of oral complications: 
 Acute and Chronic

Acute Complications

Acute complications also known as the early symptoms following a piercing involve the usual swelling of the piercing site, pain, change of speech, mastication problems and allergies.  Less common symptoms include increased salivation, generation of galvanic currents between the fillings and the bar, severe infections, breathing complications caused due to airway obstruction and prolonged bleeding.

Chronic Complications3

Chronic complications also knows as the late stage symptoms following a piercing involve dental chipping, teeth fracturing, damage to tooth restorations, pulpal damage (damage to the soft inner part of the tooth), gingival trauma (normally resulting in infections or inflammation), localized tissue overgrowth, persistent oral difficulties, swallowing of the piercing and bifid tongue.

As you can see on the right, that’s a classic case of bifid tongue which is caused normally after a lingual piercing has been torn off.

4Other less common complications which are easily avoidable include the transmission of chronic infections such as Hepatitis B, tetanus and HIV, development of cerebral abscess after the development of an infection following the piercing, endocarditis (heart inflammation) caused by Neisseria mucosa and Heamophilus aphrophilus, severe blood loss and embedded ornaments.

As far as lip piercings are concerned, the risks are lower, mainly causing gingival trauma and recession due to lip studs as seen on the right.

Navel Piercings5

Navel piercings have become a more common practice among the younger generation.  The most common navel piercing is the belly button piercing.  Risks vary widely and include bacterial infections, excessive bleeding, pain, allergic reactions, formation of keloid scars and nerve damage.

Superficial naval piercings have a tendency to migrate towards the skin surface due to rejection.  The main problem is compounded by wearing heavily weighted piercings thin-gauge jewellery.  Migration and scarring are more problematic when observed in obese patients and in the later stages of pregnancy.
Extra care should be observed for navel piercings on other sites such as the back of the neck and the wrist since tearing off of the piercing is very common which results in scarring and recurrent infections if care is not properly taken.  This can be avoided by wearing loose clothing, avoiding friction and avoid placing rigid jewellery in the navel site.

Nipple Piercings9ec8f694313ad17e15f78be5ed7e8b5b

Speaking through experience, nipple piercings are one of the slowest healing sites on the body.  Although the piercing itself is not very painful, the soreness at first is very frustrating.  Depending on the breast size, the smaller the breast the quicker  the healing.  In this case men have a quicker healing process but on the other hand heavier breasted women will have a bit of a tougher time for the piercing to heal.  Everyday the nipples are under constant pressure through movement which is only noticed after you get them pierced.  In that case, ice has always done wonders.

With regards to complications linked to nipple piercings, the most common include infection, jewellery rejection and scarring.  Scarring normally happens when a nipple piercing has been torn off.


Proper care should always be taken for any kind of piercing.  In case of any complications experienced with piercings, it’s always recommended to contact your doctor.  Never take anything for granted.

Enjoy your piercings.

Author: Alexia Micallef

Related Posts