Pocketing - Risks Associated With Body Piercing

Risks Associated With Body Piercing

Body piercing is an invasive procedure with risks. In a 2005 survey of 10,503 persons over the age of 16 in England, complications were reported in 31% of piercings, with professional help being necessary in 15.2%. 0.9% had complications serious enough to require hospitalization.

Some risks of note include:

  • Allergic reaction to the metal in the piercing jewellery, particularly nickel. This risk can be minimized by using high quality jewellery manufactured from Titanium or Niobium or similar inert metals.
  • Infection, bacterial or viral, particularly from Staphylococcus aureus, group A streptococcus and Pseudomonas spp. Reports at the 16th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in 2006 indicated that bacterial infections are seldom serious, but that between 10–20% of piercings result in local benign bacterial infection. The Mayo Clinic estimates 30%. Risk of infection is greatest among those with congenital heart disease, who have a much higher chance of developing life-threatening infective endocarditis, hemophiliacs and diabetics, as well as those taking Corticosteroids. In 2006, a diabetic woman in Indiana lost a breast due to an infection from a nipple piercing. Viral infections may include hepatitis B, hepatitis C and, potentially, HIV, although as of 2009 there had been no documented cases of HIV caused by piercing. While rare, infection due to piercing of the tongue can be fatal. Higher prevalence of colonization of Candida albicans was reported in young individuals with tongue piercing, in comparison to non-tongue-pierced matched individuals.
  • Excess scar tissue, including hypertrophic scar and keloid formation. While piercings can be removed, they may leave a hole, mark or scar.
  • Physical trauma including tearing, friction or bumping of the piercing site, which may cause edema and delay healing. The risks can be minimized by wearing properly sized jewellery and not changing it unnecessarily, by not touching the piercing more than required for aftercare, and by being conscious of environmental factors (such as clothing) that may impact the piercing.
  • Oral trauma, including recession of gingival tissue and dental fracture and wear. Recession of gingival tissue affects 19% to 68% of subjects with lip and/or intra-oral ornaments. In some cases, the alveolar tooth-bearing bone is also involved, jeopardizing the stability and durability of the teeth in place and requiring a periodontal regeneration surgery. Dental fracture and wear affects 14% to 41% of subjects with lip and/or intra-oral ornaments.

Contemporary body piercing studios generally take numerous precautions to protect the health of the person being pierced and the piercer. Piercers are expected to sanitize the location to be pierced as well as their hands, even though they will often wear gloves during the procedure (and in some areas must, as it is prescribed by law). Quite frequently, these gloves will be changed multiple times, often one pair for each step of setup to avoid cross contamination. For example, after a piercer has cleaned the area to be pierced on a client, the piercer may change gloves to avoid recontaminating the area with the gloves he/she used to clean it. Wearing sterile gloves is required by law for professional piercing procedures in some areas, such as the states of Florida and South Carolina. Tools and jewellery should be sterilized in autoclaves, and non-autoclavable surfaces should be cleaned with disinfectant agents on a regular basis and between clients.

In addition, the Association of Professional Piercers recommends classes in First Aid in blood-borne pathogens as part of professional training.

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