Complications of Body Piercing
Dr. Joanmarie Pellegrini
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Body piercing that includes areas other than ear lobes is gaining acceptance. One of the reasons that this is interesting to me as a surgeon is that I am now seeing more patients with complications from these piercings.
There are “early” and “late” complications. Early complications occur because of improper sterile technique or improper site selection. Most of these complications can be avoided by choosing a reputable piercer. These complications are usually a local infection around the piercing.
Ear piercing: a search of the medical literature does not list many complications. Interestingly, there do not seem to be any more complications with piercing the cartilage (the upper part of the ear) as opposed to the earlobe. Some people form keloids which is a very large scar. If you know you are one of these people, you should avoid piercing all together.
Tongue and lip piercing: I suspect that most people who get this type of piercing are not informed about the dental complications. The metal in this type of jewelry can cause gingival recession and tooth trauma. Over time, this can necessitate expensive dental care. The gingival recession will self-correct if the jewelry is removed and good oral hygiene is followed. Trauma to the tooth enamel, however, may be irreversible.
Umbilical piercing: The only real complication is infection of the belly button. This can be avoided by frequently cleansing of this area.
Intimate piercings: Surprising to me, there are few complications with this type of piercing. A penile ring, although not really a “piercing” can cause a narrowing of the urethra if it is too tight and left on long-term.
Nipple piercing: This is the most frequent piercing to cause complications in my practice. I have seen several women with breast infections that have occurred many months after piercing. Some women have even had their piercing removed for months to years before they develop an abscess. A breast abscess is painful. Unfortunately, this abscess is caused by a communication with the duct which can make it more difficult to treat. The mammary ducts all come together at the nipple. A piercing through the nipple can cause an abnormal communication between the skin and one or more of these ducts. Skin bacteria can get into the duct and cause an infection in the breast tissue. Some of these infections can cause breast deformity or may even require surgery to remove the duct and some breast tissue