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Body piercing has been recorded from ancient civilizations and can be
seen in art and antiquities. Body piercing has recently become common in many
countries, particularly among young persons. The February 25, 2004, issue
of JAMA includes an article about serious infections
related to piercing of the ear cartilage.
Piercing has been performed in nearly every area of the body. Cultural
ideas influence the types of piercing commonly done in different parts of
the world. In the United States, common piercing sites include the earlobe,
ear cartilage, eyebrow, tongue, lips, nose, and umbilicus (belly button). Less visible sites include the nipples and the genitals.
Any time the skin is penetrated, potential for infection exists. Typical
signs of infection include pain, tenderness, redness, and foul-smelling drainage
from the site of the piercing. Such infections can lead to serious complications
such as abscess formation at the site or spread through the bloodstream to
distant sites, including the heart valves. If you think you have an infection
at a piercing site, see a doctor for evaluation.
Piercing through ear cartilage has more risk of infection than piercing
the earlobe. This is because there is little blood flow to the cartilage.
Ear cartilage infections are difficult to treat and may require surgery resulting
in permanent disfigurement of the ear.
The instruments used to do body piercing may become contaminated with
blood, body fluids, or other infectious materials. This may not be visible
to the naked eye. Infections (such as hepatitis) can occur if the instruments
are not properly cleaned and sterilized. If you choose to have a part of your
body pierced, minimize your risk of infection by being certain that the piercing
equipment has been sterilized. Piercing guns should be avoided.
Edema (tissue swelling)
Allergic reactions to metal
Dental damage from oral or tongue piercing
What type of training does the piercer have?
How are the piercing instruments cleaned and sterilized?
How are problems at the specific piercing institution traced?
What kind of care needs to be taken with the piercing?
What type of metal (gold or silver are preferred) is used for
the initial piercing?
How long before the piercing is considered to be healed?
Whom do you contact if problems arise with the piercing?
Where do you find more information?
Association of Professional Piercers 888/888-1277 http://www.safepiercing.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish.
Sources: Association of Professional Piercers, Centers for Disease Control
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval.
To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Body Piercing. JAMA. 2004;291(8):1024. doi:10.1001/jama.291.8.1024
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