Infected Tattoo Symptoms

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
infected tattoo

Getting a tattoo should be a celebration, a personal statement, and a thoughtful acquisition of permanent body art. So you need to ensure that you do everything possible to prevent a medical complication - and deal with any alarming post-tattoo symptoms promptly. Never ignore signs of an infected tattoo.

General Infected Tattoo Symptoms

Hopefully, you'll never experience an infection from your body art. However, many people do develop infections during the days that follow a trip to the tattoo shop. According to Web MD, these infections can range in type and severity, from minor allergic reactions to more skin infections.

Most infections are of a general nature and can be treated with proper aftercare and possibly a round of antibiotics if your physician feels they are called for. However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, infection can be caused by contaminated ink, inadequate disinfection, or secondary infections from injuring the tattooed skin, and symptoms may not show immediately, so it's essential to be vigilant about watching your tattoo for complications.

Typical infected tattoo symptoms may include:

  • inflamed tattoo
    Inflammation: Any sign of pink to red coloration around the tattoo site indicates inflammation. Additionally, the area might begin to feel a bit itchy or prickly, and this also indicates irritation. Gently lay your clean hand over the inflamed area. Does it feel significantly warmer than the rest of your skin? Does the heat seem to radiate? This could be another sign of a developing problem.
  • Increasing Inflammation or Irritation: A small amount of inflammation/irritation can be expected on a fresh tattoo, but if it increases rather than decreases over the first 48 hours, it's a sign that you may have an infection. According to DermNet.org, transient redness and inflammation is an expected side effect, but infections are less common, so watch the area carefully for changes and prolonged inflammation.
  • Swelling: Swelling in the immediate vicinity of the fresh tattoo will give your design a puffy and possibly distorted appearance depending on how swollen it actually is. A slight amount of swelling is typical because the skin has been traumatized, but the swelling shouldn't be excessive. If left untreated, the swelling will begin to spread out from the original area. This is a sign that infection is well under way. According to Harvard Health, there have been cases reported of tattoo-related infections caused by Mycobacterium bacteria. This can cause swelling, rashes, and even abscesses -- so it's important to seek treatment if swelling persists.
  • fever
    Fever: Fever is indicated any time the body temperature reaches above 99 degrees F. A fever can range from mild to severe depending on how long the infection has been left without treatment. According to the University of Michigan Health System, infection from tattoos can develop both externally and deep inside the wound, so even if you aren't exhibiting external symptoms but have a fever, you should seek help from a medical professional.
  • Muscle aches: These are usually fever-related, although the pain may be restricted to the direct area beneath the tattoo.
  • General weakness: Again, this can also be related to a fever caused by infection, but by the time weakness sets in, the infection may have reached a serious stage.
  • Pain: It's natural to feel a certain amount of discomfort or tenderness from a fresh tattoo, and the level of pain is naturally linked to how much work you've had done. For example, a simple, one color tattoo without a lot of details involves fewer needle penetrations. On the other hand, a full color design involves thousands more pricks, so you would expect a little more pain from that kind of design. However, most of that initial pain should fade after the first 48 hours. If it doesn't, or if the pain increases, it's likely that the tat is in the early stages of infection and should be examined right away.
  • Discharge: All fresh tats weep a little clear serum that is usually flecked with tiny blood spots. This is a natural part of the healing process. However, if the fresh tat begins producing yellowish-green pus, you definitely have a problem in progress. Additionally, excessive bloody discharge is also one of the more unpleasant infected tattoo symptoms.
  • Foul odor: Anaerobic or "bad" bacteria emit a foul smell. If your tat begins to smell stinky, it's time to have it looked at by a professional.
  • Red streaks: Red streaks that radiate outward from the original tattoo site can be a serious sign of blood poisoning. If you see this, head straight for your doctor's office or the nearest emergency room because it is fatal if left untreated.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Anytime the lymph nodes swell, it's a sign that the immune system has been called into action to attack an intruder. Check for swelling in the nodes closest to the area of your tattoo first.

MRSA Infections from Tattoos

It's a fact that many strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

MRSA Symptoms

MRSA skin infection

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a particularly virulent strain of staph that is proving difficult to treat. It has the opportunity to enter your body via the needle wounds from the tattoo machine. MRSA can produce rashes and boils, as well as deeper skin infections referred to a cellulitis that have the ability to spread rapidly. According to the CDC, MRSA symptoms include pain, welling, the area being warm to the touch, pus or drainage, and sometimes fever.

Serious MRSA Complications

MRSA has also been linked to cases of blood infections as well as necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease. Many of these symptoms develop extremely fast, so head straight for your local emergency room if they appear. It's better to err on the side of caution and let a physician make an accurate diagnosis.

Safe Self-Care

Infected tattoo symptoms have the potential to progress into life threatening illnesses. Never hesitate to bring any of these symptoms to the attention of your tattoo artist as well as your personal physician. Don't risk your health or the integrity of your new tattoo.

Infected Tattoo Symptoms