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Body Piercing

Complications and Prevention of Health Risks

Abstract

Body and earlobe piercing are common practices in the USA today. Minor complications including infection and bleeding occur frequently and, although rare, major complications have been reported. Healthcare professionals should be cognizant of the medical consequences of body piercing.

Complications vary depending on the body-piercing site, materials used, experience of the practitioner, hygiene regimens, and aftercare by the recipient. Localized infections are common. Systemic infections such as viral hepatitis and toxic shock syndrome and distant infections such as endocarditis and brain abscesses have been reported. Other general complications include allergic contact dermatitis (e.g. from nickel or latex), bleeding, scarring and keloid formation, nerve damage, and interference with medical procedures such as intubation and blood/organ donation.

Site-specific complications have been reported. Oral piercings may lead to difficulty speaking and eating, excessive salivation, and dental problems. Oral and nasal piercings may be aspirated or become embedded, requiring surgical removal. Piercing tracts in the ear, nipple, and navel are prone to tearing. Galactorrhea may be caused by stimulation from a nipple piercing. Genital piercings may lead to infertility secondary to infection, and obstruction of the urethra secondary to scar formation. In men, priapism and fistula formation may occur. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and have a piercing or are considering obtaining one need to be aware of the rare complications that may affect them or their child. Though not a ‘complication’ per se, many studies have reported body piercing as a marker for high-risk behavior, psychopathologic symptoms, and anti-social personality traits.

When it comes to piercing complications, prevention is the key. Body piercers should take a complete medical and social history to identify conditions that may predispose an individual to complications, and candidates should choose a qualified practitioner to perform their piercing.

As body piercing continues to be popular, understanding the risks of the procedures as well as the medical and psychosocial implications of wearing piercing jewelry is important for the medical practitioner.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Christiane Querfeld, MD, and Christopher Holbrook, MD, for translation. None of the authors has any conflicts of interest relevant to this review. Dr Julia Minocha was supported in part by a Medical-Dermatology Grant from the National Psoriasis Foundation. This funding source provided no scientific or intellectual input into the work.

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Correspondence to Anne Laumann.

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Holbrook, J., Minocha, J. & Laumann, A. Body Piercing. Am J Clin Dermatol 13, 1–17 (2012). https://doi.org/10.2165/11593220-000000000-00000

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Keywords

  • Infective Endocarditis
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis
  • Priapism
  • Gingival Recession
  • Keloid Scarring