Body Piercing Can Be Life-Threatening

ByABC News
September 25, 2000, 8:24 AM

N E W   Y O R K, Sept. 27 -- Emergency medical technicians recently wheeled a 19-year-old woman who had stopped breathing from an overdose of a date-rape drug into a Salt Lake City hospital.

Doctors at LDS Hospital tried to put a breathing tube down her throat, but their path was blocked by three 1-inch-long metal stud barbells running along the length of her tongue.

One doctor got to the point where he said, If you have to rip her tongue, just do it, says Dr. Shari Welch, one of the doctors on the case.

Eventually we got the tongue out of the way, but her body piercing could have cost her her life, Welch says.

Infections and Removal Problems

These days, increasing numbers of people, from mainstream baby boomers to rebellious teenagers, are piercing their bodies in stranger and stranger places tongues, navels, even their genitals. As a result, doctors are starting to see more of body piercings dark side: Infections from dirty puncture wounds now happen in one out of every five piercings. The jewelry is tearing the skin. And studs and baubles in unusual places can hinder doctors from administering emergency care.

Body-art lovers defend their freedom of expression, saying its the doctors who should learn how to remove the jewelry in life-threatening conditions. The majority of people, they point out, know how to take care of themselves with disinfectants and cleaning once theyve been pierced.

Currently, 37 of the 50 states have legislation regulating the body-piercing industry, and piercing professionals believe the rest should follow suit.

Making a Statement

Body piercing has been around since ancient times and isnt going to go away, says Pat McCarthy, president of the Association of Professional Piercers in Columbus, Ohio.

Piercing is fashionable because it allows people to be different, McCarthy says.

We wear shoes and clothing to make a statement. Piercing does the same thing, McCarthy says. Unlike tattooing, it isnt permanent, and someone always has the option of taking the jewelry out.