How to Tell if a Piercing Is Infected

Body piercings are very popular, but every piercing comes with some risk of infection. You can tell if a piercing is infected by checking the pierced area for redness, swelling, warmth, pus, severe pain, and loss of function; you may also experience fever and other general signs of infection. Without proper care, an infected piercing can lead to dangerous illness and future scarring, so you should seek proper treatment as soon as you suspect an infection.


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    Observe. In a well lighted area or room, take a look at your piercing and ask yourself some questions.
    • How old is the piercing? Most of the time, a fresh piercing will not get infected right when you step out the piercing parlour's door. If you've had the piercing for little over a week, you will be able to tell if an infection has occurred.
    • Where's the piercing located? If the piercing is in an area of the body where an infection is more prone, (Ex: Ear, navel, genitals, lip) then there will be a higher risk of infection if not taken care of with caution.
    • Have I pierced it myself? Self piercings are more dangerous and prone to becoming infected for numerous reasons such as, improper use of tools, non-sterilized equipment, used/shared equipment, etc. It's best to see a professional to prevent these possible problems.
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    Check for redness. Most of the time a fresh piercing will obviously be a little pink. If the redness does not go away or it becomes darker, there could be a possibility that it's infected.
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    Look for swelling. If the area around the piercing is unusually swelled for an extended period of time, there is a good chance it is infected.
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    Look for any discharge or pus. Pus is the most obvious sign of an infected piercing. White pus tends to indicate a very minor infection, in which case you should simply continue with the normal cleansing process and look for signs of healing. In the case of a more serious infection, pus will either be yellow or green.
    • Your piercing may secrete a clear liquid which could be lymph, which indicates a healing piercing. Lymph occurs when the blood goes into the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) and some leaks out into the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system divides the lymph into good and bad (the bad lymph goes into your lymph nodes, and you can feel them when you're sick).
    • You will recognize lymph because of its whitish-yellow colour and the crust it forms at the openings of the jewelry.
    • In this case you should simply continue with your normal cleansing routine, to allow your piercing to keep healing properly.
    • In most cases, liquid secreted from a piercing is probably lymph, though a thicker, odorous or darker liquid might be cause for concern.
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    Pay attention to the degree of pain. Stinging, aching, or burning a few days after your piercing is normal. After all, you've just received a punctured wound. However, if you feel any sharp pains while touching the area, it might be infected.
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    See if the piercing is giving off heat. If the piercing is unusually hot to the touch or gives off heat, it could be infected.
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    Notice if you have sustained Loss of function. Areas of the body such as the tongue can be slowed down by a piercing and getting an infection in that area would only make it worse. If the part is too painful to move, you possibly could have an infection.
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    Watch out for Fever/chills/nausea. Fever, sometimes followed up cold chills and nausea, is a definite sign of trouble. You either have a localized infection at the piercing site or a more serious (potentially fatal) systemic infection. Consult a doctor if you have a high and/or persistent fever, chills, or nausea. These are not normal reactions to piercing
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    Treat the infection. So you've got an infection, now what? First thing that might come to mind would be to remove the jewelry. Thus would result in a big mistake. Doing so would allow the piercing to close up and keep the infection inside and not allowing drainage, eventually leading to an abscess. Instead, you should continue cleansing the area as usual and see your piercer as soon as possible.


  • Often times, piercings become infected due to extreme irritation from sleeping on them. Use an airplane support pillow in your pillowcase and place your piercing in the middle "hole". This allows you to sleep like normal without sleeping on your piercing.
  • If the infection is mild, a home remedy may be used. Dissolve 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of sea salt in 1 cup (250 ml) of warm water in a clean cup, preferably in a disposable plastic one for each treatment. Soak the piercing or make a compress with a clean washcloth saturated with the salt water. Do this two to three times per day, fifteen minutes per session.
  • Crusty edges don't always indicate infection; most times it is part of the healing process. It is NOT okay to miss one cleaning if you are cleaning it three or less times a day. Also, unless your piercer has told you otherwise, DO NOT put antibiotic cream on your infected piercing. Warm water and sea salt solution is most recommended for ANY piercing otherwise, non-scented (anti-perspirant) soap and warm water should do the trick. It's recommended that you talk to a doctor or your piercer before treating an infection because treating for infection when there isn't any can increase risk for becoming infected.
  • Doctors aren't trained to deal with piercings, go back to your piercer if you have any problems or concerns.
  • Move or twist the jewelry while cleaning it to get the solution inside the piercing and coat the jewelry. Be careful though: some piercings do not need to be twisted, and doing so may irritate the piercing and put it at greater risk for infection. Always check with your piercer before twisting the jewelry.
  • Pay close attention to infections in facial or oral piercings; their proximity to the brain makes them especially dangerous.
  • Over cleaning or under clean belly button piercing leads to greater chance of infection.
  • It may be wise to see your family doctor, since they can prescribe antibiotics and/or refer you to a specialist.
  • Soak the infected area with a solution of aspirin in warm salt water.
  • If you get a mild infection in an ear piercing, you can put antibiotic cream on it in addition to the cleaning solution they give you for the piercing.
  • Although it sounds strange, don't over clean your piercing. This can dry it out, irritate the piercing and lead to an infection.


  • Also, do not touch your piercing, as your hands are full of bacteria which can cause your piercing to get infected.
  • Do not use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or anything of the sort on the piercing. The formulas are too strong and will kill new skin cells that are trying to form to heal your ear piercing.
  • Always use sea salt when cleaning any piercing, never use table salt. Table salt contains iodine, which can set back the healing process and further irritate the area.
  • Avoid antibiotic creams or ointments as they trap dirt and debris and do not allow the piercing to breathe.
  • To help reduce redness and swelling naturally, buy pure chamomile tea and brew it with 1 cup of boiling water. Mix the tea with 1/8-1/4 teaspoons of sea salt and apply to the area.

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Categories: Tattoos and Piercing