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Effects of Body Piercings

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Tongue Piercing

There are several different body regions you can have pierced, and piercing any of the areas can have some lasting effects. Take the time to consider the impact a piercing will have on your body before you pierce.

Long Term Effects of Body Piercings

With many piercings, the long-term effects are less severe than the short term. It is important to know what you may be getting yourself into, so be aware of the risks prior to getting a piercing.

Ears

When you pierce your ear with a normal stud and then remove it, the hole will eventually heal. Gauging your ears with anything larger than a standard stud will force your lobes to stretch. If you no longer want the gauge, your ear lobes may shrink a little over time, but you will still be left with a gaping hole. Deep tissue massage may be effective at reducing their size, otherwise you would have to talk to a plastic surgeon about reconstructive surgery in order to restore a more normal appearance.

Oral Piercings: Tongue, Cheek & Lip

Although the pain associated with many oral piercings is minimal, the long-term effects are more widespread. The list of possibilities includes:

  • Disease transmission of herpes simplex and hepatitis B & C
  • Endocarditis caused by an oral infection transferring to the heart via the bloodstream
  • Numbness, as well as loss of sensation and movement (in tongue piercings)
  • Gum disease from long stem tongue piercings (barbells) that make prolonged contact with the gums
  • Teeth that are chipped and damaged by the metal stems of piercings hitting them
  • Excess saliva production that can lead to permanent drooling
  • Speech impairment
  • Jewelry aspiration
Neck piercing scar
Neck piercing scar

Surface and Other Body Piercings

The risks of long-term problems from surface and other body piercings are lower, but they still exist. Some potential problems include:

  • Scarring
  • Damage to the underlying muscles, blood vessels or nerves
  • Splitting or tearing of the skin
  • Allergic reactions
  • Irritation at the piercing site

Genital Piercings

The popularity of genital body piercings is increasing, and there are some dangers to these particular piercings that may not occur with piercings to other parts of the body. For example, piercing can change the sensations felt during sexual contact. The jewelry used for a genital body piercing may actually injure your partner and, in some instances, men have reported an inability to perform after having received a genital piercing. Another consideration that is important to note is that some piercings may render condoms ineffective, and this opens the door to a host of potential problems including sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.

Possible Social Implications

While many people enjoy body piercings as a way to express their individuality, it is important to note that some piercings are not readily accepted in mainstream society. For this reason, you should consider the potential social implications that can come with body piercings. For example, a prominent piercing on the face may inhibit your ability to get a job.

Short Term Effects of Body Piercings

Allergic reaction to jewelry
Allergic reaction to jewelry

The short term effects of body piercings tend to be more damaging than the long term and can include:

  • Wound site infection caused by bacteria that enters the pierced skin due to unsterilized metal
  • Allergic reactions to the metal of the jewelry
  • A body rash at the location of the piercing
  • Boils or abscesses
  • Migration of the jewelry

Tips to Avoid Short and Long-Term Effects

If you're aware of the possible effects of this type of piercing, the following tips may help you keep problems from developing.

  1. Talk to your friends and ask for their recommendations on piercers.
  2. Only go to a piercer that is board certified, and ask to see his or her licensing. Although some states don't require licensing, many piercing professionals still attend courses and achieve certification.
  3. Observe your piercing professional at work to see if or she follows sterile procedures, such as wearing gloves and using fresh needles, or at least freshly-sterilized needles.
  4. Be sure to follow the aftercare procedures given to you by the piercer.
  5. Take the recommendation of the piercer to heart; he or she knows best

Think Before You Pierce

Before committing to a piercing, visit your local piercer and ask to sit in on a procedure, preferably the same piercing you wish to get. Ask the piercer to explain the procedure in detail, and ask specifically about any issues your piercer may have seen before and which steps need to be taken to prevent them. It's also a very good idea to speak with your physician before getting one of these piercings to find out what he or she recommends. Going into the procedure fully aware of possible complications is the surest way to ward off any potential negatives before they occur.

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Effects of Body Piercings