Piercing is the perforation of an area of the body to introduce, for decorative purposes (or in some cultures as a ritual practice), metal objects or jewelry (rings, earrings, stones, etc.).
According to data gathered from research published in the British Medical Journal , one in 10 people over 16 and about 50% of young people between 16 and 24 have at least one piercing. It has therefore become a very widespread practice, but the risks are more often than not underestimated. The English study, in fact, shows that more than a third of young people who undergo piercing do so in inadequate hygienic conditions. This means that the risk of infections, even serious ones such as hepatitis, is quite high.
What is piercing
It is a practice that has its roots in the past and consists in drilling certain parts of the body to insert objects, such as jewelry for example.
As with tattoos , the reasons can be different. However, they are bodily modifications with a predominantly aesthetic purpose or symbol of transgression , especially in the Western world. In some natural cultures, however, they can be ritual and symbolic practices, to express belonging to specific groups or ethnicities.
The classic earlobe hole is also a piercing.
This means that it is still a custom that has ancient origins. In fact, the use of decorating the ears dates back to the primitive age , and then spread, both among men and women, in the ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilizations.
Types of piercings
There are various types. There is the classic one with an entry hole and an exit hole in which to insert the jewel or the one in which a subcutaneous bar is inserted at the ends of which the jewels are attached.
Then there is the pocketing or anti-piercing in which, instead, the bar is visible and the ends are inserted under the skin. Finally, the dermal anchoring (microdermal and dermal), which consists in inserting a plate under the skin on which to screw the jewel.
Parts of the body
The areas in which they are most commonly inserted are:
- nose and nostril
- lips and tongue
- belly button
Piercing: how to do it
Performing the piercing is a delicate activity and it is essential to contact a qualified operator who has followed a regional training course and who operates in compliance with the health and hygiene requirements set out in the guidelines by Health departments . It is also necessary to contact an authorized center.
Who decides for it must then be of age. For minors, however, the consent and presence of a parent is mandatory.
Generally a spring gun is used for the ears and a specific needle (hollow needle) and pliers for the other areas. All instruments must be sterilized. Do-it-yourself and the use of disposable kits sold on the internet should be avoided .
The first piercing: what to watch out for
During the next stage of the piercing can occur:
- slight bleeding
- loss of sensation and itching of the area around the hole.
Don’t worry, it’s all normal, these are manifestations that tend to gradually disappear over a few days.
On the other hand, if a clear and odorless liquid comes out of the wound , even in this case there is no need to worry. In fact, it is lymphatic serum, a natural defense of the organism against the piercing, which in contact with the air firms up, forming crusts.
Observing a series of hygiene rules during the healing of the hole, then allows you to prevent any infections.
The rules to follow to prevent risks
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before touching the piercing area
- clean the piercing at least twice a day, no more. It could, in fact, irritate the wound, slowing down the healing process
- use a saline solution for cleaning . It can also be prepared at home by dissolving a small teaspoon of salt in a glass of hot water. You can soak the piercing for a few minutes in the saline solution or make a compress to be applied to the skin with sterile gauze. In this way any crusts will soften and it will be possible to gently clean both the inlet and outlet holes. Then, carefully, gently move the jewelry, sliding it up and down, to allow the solution to penetrate the piercing channel.
- Dry the piercing well with a disposable cloth . Better to avoid towels as they may contain bacteria or leave fiber residues in the piercing.
- Avoid antibacterial cleansers if the piercing is located in a particularly delicate area of the body such as, for example, the cartilage of the ear, lip or genitals.
- Use an alcohol-free mouthwash for tongue piercing and rinse the inside of your mouth after each meal. With a soft-bristled toothbrush, gently remove the plaque that tends to form at the bottom of the jewelry.
- For lip or cheek piercing , cleaning the outside of the hole with saline solution should also be taken care of.
Piercing: healing times
The timing depends on the area of the body where the piercing is located. It usually takes a few weeks, but it may take a few months. However, it is important to clean the wound properly.
Approximately the healing times are:
- earlobe: 6-8 weeks
- ear cartilage: 4 months-1 year
- eyebrow: 6-8 weeks
- nostrils: 2-4 months
- nasal septum: 6-8 months
- language: 4 weeks
- lips: 2-3 months
- nipple: 3-6 months
- navel: 4 months -1 year
- female genitals: 4-10 weeks
- male genitalia: 4 weeks-10 months
- cheek: 2 to 3 months
- dermal implants (microdermal piercing): at least 3 months
What to avoid
For the first few weeks it is necessary to avoid exposure to the sun, tanning lamps and contact with sand.
Or the piercing must be carefully protected with a breathable plaster. Furthermore it is appropriate:
- avoid swimming for the first 24 hours after applying it
- periodically check that the jewel is intact and well screwed. It should not be removed or replaced before complete healing, to prevent the hole from closing or infection
- better not to touch or move the jewel outside of cleaning operations
- avoid contact of the piercing with objects used by other people such as, for example, the telephone or earphones (in the case of an ear piercing)
- do not use cosmetics, sprays and personal hygiene products in the area surrounding the hole
- beware of physical activities that can cause trauma or injury to the area around the piercing.
In addition, some types of piercings also require special precautions:
- tongue : be careful when chewing to avoid biting the jewel and injuring teeth and mouth. Avoid foods that can irritate the wound. Better cold foods and drinks which also help reduce any swelling. Oral sex should also be avoided until the wound is fully healed
- navel : avoid tight-fitting clothing or belts, as rubbing can irritate the wound and slow healing time
- genitals : avoid sexual intercourse during the healing period, as the risk of contracting infections is higher
- microdermal piercing : protect it carefully from possible trauma. In case of breakage, the plate must be replaced immediately.
What risks are involved with piercing
The main risk is bacterial infection.
It can contract both during the puncture, if the hygiene rules are not respected, and subsequently, during the healing. The risk of transmission of viruses such as that of hepatitis or HIV can be avoided, however, with the use of sterile disposable materials by the person who carries out the piercing.
Bacterial infections, generally, manifest themselves with accumulation of pus around the wound (an event that should not be neglected at all). It is very rare for the infection to spread and cause septicemia or toxic shock.
The first signs of infection
The first signs of infection are:
- redness and swelling around the wound;
- throbbing or feeling of heat in the area where the piercing is located;
- pain to touch and excessive sensitivity of the area near the piercing;
- yellowish secretions (pus);
In these cases, you should immediately consult a doctor to avoid any complications.
Complications: when to see a doctor?
Even in the presence of the following symptoms it is advisable to consult a doctor:
- bleeding, especially in vascularized areas such as the tongue;
- swelling in the area surrounding the piercing;
- scar formation;
- allergic reactions to piercing metals.
In general, It can involve various complications, always depending on the area of the body in which it is located:
- tongue : speech defects, difficulty chewing, damage to the gums, chipping of the teeth and bleeding can occur. In severe cases, swelling of the tongue can obstruct the airways or if the jewel damages a nerve, partial paralysis of the tongue can occur
- ear cartilages : piercings in the upper part of the ear are more risky than those on the lobe as they become infected more easily
- nose : they are more prone to infection as it is more difficult to disinfect the inside of the nose
- genitals : can hinder sexual intercourse and cause pain when urinating.
Even allergic reactions are a possible risk. Much depends on the materials used (for example nickel or particular metals) and on individual sensitivity.
In case of pathologies, the piercing is contraindicated. In particular in the case of:
- diabetes (it takes more time to heal)
- heart problems (especially valve defects)
- immune system disorders (due to the use of cortisone, anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs)
- skin diseases.
Prevention is better than cure
We want to reiterate that the piercing done by improvised operators, who do not use disposable needles and sterile material , carries a high risk of infections, even serious ones. In particular:
- hepatitis B (16%)
- hepatitis C (12%)
- HIV (0.5%).
It is therefore necessary:
- take care of hygiene in the areas where the piercing is located
- inquire about the risks in particularly delicate areas (e.g. tongue, nipples and genitals)
- categorically avoid “do it yourself”
- contact authorized centers.