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What is an Infection?

When performed correctly, a primary infection is incredibly rare. But what is an infection, and when should you see your doctor? Piercings should be performed in a clean environment by an experienced and hygienic practitioner.

To a layperson, it is very easy to see totally normal parts of a healing piercing as signs of an infection. Let’s start by describing what a normal, healing piercing might look like!

We know we use this photo all the time, but it is a perfect example of a piercing that is only a few days old. This is totally normal!

What is Normal

It is totally normal for a healing piercing to drain a clear, yellow or pale green fluid. This liquid can dry into a crust. The liquid itself is lymph – a mixture of plasma, immune cells, serous fluid, platelets and red blood cells. This lymph is a positive part of the healing process, and is often seen in the first few weeks of a new piercing as the initial swelling floods the piercing site with fluids and immune cells. You can read more on that here!

A healing piercing is also expected to be red, and swollen. We have just made a new hole in you, after all! This swelling can be uncomfortable, but will go down in time. This swelling can be exacerbated by your lifestyle. You might be increasing your swelling by playing with the piercing, eating a low-nutrient or high salt diet, or by taking certain medications. Swelling can also be a little more intense during very hot weather! 

Pain, although not fun, is part of a healing piercing. You may expect a throbbing sensation for a few days afterwards, and depending on the piercing you may experience pain or discomfort for a few weeks. This pain is totally normal! 

Here is a great example of what a fresh or healing piercing can look like. Swelling is totally normal, along with discharge and warmth.

We cannot stress how rare it is for an infection to be caused by a competent piercer using an aseptic technique. Here at Rogue we specialise in infection control and aseptic techniques. Each stage of the sterilisation process is carefully controlled, verified, and logged to prove your jewellery has been handled safely and sterilised correctly. Each piece of jewellery undergoes a three-step sterilisation process, and we wear sterile gloves when piercing. The piercing itself is performed using entirely sterilised needles and tools. You can ask to see our sterilisation logs, where each sterilisation cycle is timed, dated, logged and stored alongside the chemical integrator that proves the cycle was successful in sterilising. Each Statim or other autoclave undergoes rigorous daily testing to make sure it is working perfectly! All of our equipment undergoes annual third-party testing, and the certification of this can be seen in each room. We are confident in these protocols and in our ability to perform an aseptic piercing.

Infections can be caused by a number of things, including submerging the piercing in stagnant water, touching your piercing with unwashed hands, working in a dirty or contaminated environment, wearing dirty clothing or using unclean headphones or stethoscopes. Secondary infections like this are the most common form – An infection introduced after the piercing has been performed, not by the piercing process itself. What does an actual infection look like, and what should you do about it?

What Can a Piercing Infection Look Like?

Infections can look different depending on the causative bacterium or fungus. An infection commonly looks like:

  • Intense swelling and spreading redness across the ear, neck and face (or relevant body area).
  • A thick, cottage-cheese textured liquid that may be white, yellow or brown, oozing from the piercing. This discharge is often foul-smelling.
  • Flu-like symptoms including sweating, shivering, clamminess, and feeling unwell.
  • A fever of 38 degrees or above.
  • Swollen glands in your neck, armpits and groin.
  • An infection will be obvious – You will know what it looks like as an infection is a serious medical issue. 
Infections are dramatic – You will be acutely aware of it. Irritations are much more common, and easily solved with the help of your piercer!

What to do about a potential infection?

  1. Go to your doctor. A genuine infection can be solved with a round of antibiotics. However, it must be noted that doctors are not piercers, and will often prescribe antibiotics for any redness and swelling that a fresh piercing can commonly have. Doctors may not be educated on what a healing or irritated piercing looks like, and will jump to ‘infection’ as a knee-jerk response. They will often diagnose you with an infection whether it is an infection or not! It is vital that you ask your doctor to take a swab sample to send off to the lab. Only this lab testing can prove an infection exists, and gives your doctor the information they need to accurately prescribe suitable medication. You may need to argue this with your doctor, but it is vital you make sure they do their job properly. The overprescription of antibiotics is a major global problem, so do ensure your doctor actually confirms it is an infection first! Once the infection is confirmed, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics in order to solve the issue. We recommend not removing jewellery during this time, as this can trap the infection inside the body and the piercing channel will quickly seal at both ends. Head to your piercer and they can fit longer jewellery as required to allow for your swelling.
  1. Contact your piercer. Regardless of if it is an infection or not, it is important to contact your piercer with any issues you may have. If it is a genuine infection, your piercer should be informed so that they can check their sterilisation and aseptic protocols. If it isn’t an infection, they can help troubleshoot the cause of your irritation and make sure your piercing is happy and healthy.
  1. Do not try at-home remedies. It is very important that you follow safe aftercare advice – DIY cures can only make things worse.

Infections are rare, but with speedy diagnosis and treatment they can be solved and you can keep your piercing. We are always working at the highest levels of cleanliness and are always willing to help you, whether you were pierced by us or not.

-Kat Henness