Although freshly pierced skin can cause mild symptoms, infected piercings can lead to additional pain, swelling and redness during the healing phase.
Treatment for infected piercings should be guided by a health care professional based on the type of wound and degree of inflammation noted. General recommendations are to keep the area clean and dry, avoid moisture and sweat and to take medications as prescribed by the doctor (which may include anti-inflammatories or antibiotics).
6 steps for taking care of your infected piercing
If you suspect your new piercing has become infected, you should consult your doctor for assessment. Until you are seen, you should consider the following recommendations:
- Wash the area, about twice a day, with water and mild soap and pat dry with a towel or clean gauze. The soap should be of a neutral pH or antibacterial.
- Keep the area dry and avoid any moisture from sweat or discharge. Make sure you use loose, breathable clothing to ensure the skin remains dry.
- Eliminate any possible friction that can be caused by clothing or use of accessories.
- Cleanse the area with saline and cotton. You can make your own saline solution with 250 mL (or 1 cup) of warm, clean water and 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
- Be mindful of your diet as some foods like soda, sweets and fried food, can delay healing. Consider including food with anti-inflammatory properties in your diet, like saffron and garlic.
If inflammation does not improve with these measures, make sure you see your family doctor. Treatment with oral antibiotics, like cephelaxin, or with topical antibiotics may be required.
If your mouth piercing (e.g. on the tongue or lip) become infected, you should opt for soft foods to decrease discomfort, pain and effort of eating.
You should avoid using products like honey, aloe vera or other home made ointments, as these can attract debris and dust to the area and interfere with healing. Products with alcohol, iodine or hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin and should only be used for treatment of larger wounds, as directed by a health care professional.
How to prevent infection
To prevent infection, it is important to avoid rubbing of the piercing (from clothing or accessories) and to keep the area clean and dry. You should avoid submerging in water (e.g. using hot tubs or swimming in pools or lakes) while the piercing is healing. When cleaning the area, ensure your hands are clean and gently move the piercing away from the hole. Pat any secretions or crust away from the piercing hole and then pat the area dry with clean gauze.
Piercings should always be completed in trusted, established salons where regular hygiene and disinfection is properly done.
How to know if your piercing is infected
It is normal to have mild local swelling, clear discharge and some pain following a piercing, whether it is in the bellybutton, ear or mouth. However, piercings that become infected will worsen, and usually present with the following symptoms:
- Redness or swelling that does not improve in 3 days
- Redness or swelling that spreads to the skin around the piercing
- Intense or intolerable pain
- The presence of pus that can be white, yellow or green. It can also be mixed with blood.
- Fever or general malaise
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately to start treatment, which will likely involve prescription anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.