Ear Piercing Can Lead to Disfiguring Infection

Dr. Michael Heffernan, assistant professor of dermatology and director of the Clinical Trials Unit at Washington University in St. Louis warns, "If improper techniques are followed, then there is the real possibility of getting infected with hepatitis or another infection. Even more common though is that some patients have an allergic reaction to the metal in the studs — usually nickel."

Chandrawarker notes there is no uniform licensing or regulation of piercers, but piercing establishments do have to be inspected so must display a certificate.

Other ways to reduce risk, he adds: "Make sure they use disposable equipment, and if there is any problem with redness, swelling, discharge, or pain afterwards, seek help right away. It might end up being nothing, but the price is high if it isn't."

It's also wise to ask about the training and experience of the piercer, what type of metal is contained in the studs to avoid an allergic response, and what aftercare instructions need to be followed.

Heffernan adds you should ask to see where and how the instruments are cleaned. And for those who aren't iodine allergic, the piercing site should be cleaned at least three times beforehand with a Betadine® solution to kill any germs before the stud is inserted.

He also encourages all patients to follow the aftercare instructions closely until the piercing site is well healed. Regular cleaning with soap and water and application of a topical antibiotic can aid healing.

The Best Place for a Piercing?

Heffernan has one more word for parents of teens who want to get pierced: "They're going to do it anyway, so I always tell parents that you can do it with them or they will do it without you. If you go with them, at least you can have input and ask the questions they may not ask."

Still, it's often difficult to judge how clean a place is and what practices it follows.

Dr. William Keene, from the Acute & Communicable Disease Program in the Oregon Department of Human Services, investigated the outbreak and says, "It's a little like eating in a restaurant. You can't really tell for sure what's going on in the kitchen."

Adds Keene: "The vast majority of the time, people heal without any problems, but we need to remind people that there is risk involved. Be aggressive in seeking medical attention if you have any signs of infection. "

What do experts feel is probably the best place to get pierced?

A doctor's office. Some physicians such as pediatricians and dermatologists offer the service and the chances that they use proper techniques are high.

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