What is body piercing problems?

Body Piercing Problems
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Body piercing problems: Overview

Body piercing is very popular. Many areas of the body are used for piercing.

The ears are the most common piercing site. Most of the time, an earlobe piercing heals without any problems. Piercing other areas of the ear usually involves piercing the cartilage that gives the ear shape. Piercing ear cartilage creates a wound that is harder to clean, takes longer to heal, and is more likely to become infected than earlobe piercing.

Other popular sites include the lips, tongue, nose, eyebrow, navel, nipples, and genital area. Each body piercing site has its own normal healing time and its own set of possible problems. Careful aftercare at home can help speed healing of the wound and prevent problems. At first, a body piercing site may be slightly swollen. A small amount of blood or fluid may drain from the site.

Common problems that develop from body piercing include:

  • Infection of the site.
    • Infection of the lips or tongue may cause speech, chewing, or swallowing problems or swelling that can block the throat.
    • Infection of a nipple can cause an abscess and scar the breast tissue.
    • The infection could be serious or life-threatening and involve the entire body (systemic).
  • Splitting or tearing of the skin, which may cause scar tissue to form.
  • Problems with the type of jewelry used, including allergies to a metal. Make sure to use the type of jewelry designed for your piercing site. Use only nonallergenic jewelry.
  • Other problems caused by the jewelry.
    • Jewelry in the lips or tongue can cause chipping or cracking of the teeth, gum problems, and trouble chewing or swallowing. Jewelry can also become loose and be swallowed.
    • Jewelry in the navel can get caught on clothing and linens. This constant irritation can delay healing. Navel piercings can take up to a year to heal completely.
    • Jewelry in the genital area may cause injury to you or your sex partner. It also can cause condom breakage. Piercings in the penis can change the urine flow, cause recurring genital warts, and result in erection problems.
  • Damage to blood vessels or nerves under the skin.
  • Scarring of the piercing site.

If a sterile technique isn't used, there's a chance of spreading diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or tetanus. Blood infections (sepsis) can occur if a sterile technique isn't used.

You can reverse a body piercing fairly easily by removing the jewelry. This allows the hole to close.

How long does it take for a body piercing to heal?

Each body piercing site has its own normal healing time. Common sites usually heal within the time frames listed below. Healing depends on many things. It can depend on how big the piercing is and how thick the tissue is at the site. Your own ability to heal can also affect healing time.

Piercing site healing times

Piercing site

Healing time

Ear cartilage (curve of ear)

2 to 4 months

Nostril (nose)

2 to 8 months

Face (includes the earlobes, eyebrows, and lips)

6 to 8 weeks

Inside of the mouth or tongue

3 to 6 weeks


6 to 12 months

Genitals (clitoral hood, labia, and penis)

6 to 12 months

Belly button (navel)

Up to 9 months

A piercing may not heal as fast if it gets infected or irritated or if scar tissue forms. You may need to see your doctor if your piercing does not seem to be healing.

Body Piercing Problem

Image of swallowed tongue piercing

Courtesy of Intermountain Medical Imaging, Boise, Idaho.

This X-ray of the belly shows two metal parts inside the bowel that were swallowed from a tongue piercing. The sharp stud could cause problems, while the blunt part is not likely to cause problems. Both parts are likely to pass in the stool.

Caring for yourself when you have a body piercing

Careful aftercare of your body piercing can help prevent problems and promote healing. If you received written instructions from the person who did the body piercing, follow those instructions carefully. If you didn't get instructions for care of the piercing site, try using these.

  • Stop any bleeding.

    Do this by applying direct pressure to the piercing site.

  • Apply a cold pack.

    This can help reduce swelling or bruising. Never apply ice directly to the skin. This can cause tissue damage. Put a layer of fabric or a cloth towel between the cold pack and the skin.

  • Keep the wound clean.

    Clean the area 2 times a day with a mild soap and water, gently removing any buildup on the jewelry. Wipe away any moisture around the jewelry.

  • Elevate the piercing area, if you can.

    This will help reduce swelling.

  • Take extra care with a mouth or tongue piercing.
    • Use an antiseptic (alcohol-free) mouthwash to rinse your mouth 3 or 4 times a day.
    • Use ice chips or cool liquids to help reduce swelling and pain.
    • Avoid smoking, and don't drink alcohol or eat spicy foods until a mouth or tongue piercing site is fully healed.
  • Avoid tight clothing over the piercing area.

    Tight clothing may irritate the piercing site. If irritation develops, it is best to bandage the site. Piercing sites usually will heal well with or without a bandage.

  • Don't remove the jewelry if the piercing site is red or may be infected.

    A little bleeding, swelling, or redness is normal after a piercing. As it heals, if you notice new redness in the area, you can treat it with warm compresses and an antibacterial ointment. But if it isn't better in 5 to 7 days, it could be infected.

    Symptoms of an infection may include fever and chills, increased pain, swelling, warmth or redness, or pus draining from the area. An infection can be serious.

How fast the wound heals depends on the piercing site. The wound may take 4 to 6 weeks or longer to heal. Some sites may take up to a year to heal fully.

How do you know if a tattoo or body piercing studio is safe?

If you are thinking about having a tattoo or body piercing, go to a reputable studio. Look for or ask about the following:

  • Is it clean?
    • The entire studio, including the bathroom, should be clean.
  • Do the tattoo or piercing artists follow these steps to prevent infection?
    • Wash their hands before putting on new, disposable gloves.
    • Clean the client's skin properly with iodine or alcohol before the procedure.
    • For tattoos, they use sterile equipment, new needles, and disposable single-use ink cups for each tattoo. And they use sterile water to dilute ink or rinse needles during tattooing.
    • For body piercing, they use sterile needles that are only used once.
  • What type of training does the person doing the tattooing or piercing have?
  • Is a piercing gun used to do the procedure?
    • Do not have any kind of piercing done with a piercing gun. These instruments increase your risk of infection because they cannot be sterilized between procedures.
  • What kind of jewelry is used for the piercing?
    • For a new piercing, use nonallergenic jewelry made of material such as surgical steel, gold, or titanium.
    • Do not use nickel or brass-plated jewelry.
    • Choose jewelry that has not been used or worn or that has been sterilized.

What problems can happen when you have your mouth pierced?

Problems that can develop when you have your tongue, inner cheek, uvula, or lip pierced include:

  • Pain.
  • Bleeding.
  • Infection at the site of the piercing.
  • Infections, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or tetanus.
  • Speech problems.
  • Chewing and swallowing problems.
  • Tooth damage, including chipped, cracked, or broken teeth.
  • Scar tissue.
  • Swelling that may block your throat.

If you have your mouth pierced and use oral jewelry, make sure you can remove it. The ball on one end of a barbell-shaped device must be able to be screwed off and on to make the jewelry easy to insert and remove. Mouth jewelry that dislodges can be accidentally swallowed or inhaled, causing injury or requiring surgical removal.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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