Ponder before you pierce
Body piercing is popular among teenagers and young adults. If you are debating about getting a piercing, or your teenage son or daughter is thinking about getting one, do your homework first, writes Yvonne Evans
Some parents worry about the risks, which are generally minimal, while teenagers dismiss the amount of care that is needed with new a piercing.
Body piercing has been around for at least 5,000 years. The oldest mummified remains ever were found wearing earrings. We know nose piercing has been practiced since 1500BC. Lip and tongue piercing is historically found in African and American tribes while genital and nipple piercings have been present since ancient Rome.
Some people believe body piercing is only seen on hippies, goths and those with ASBOs. In 1825, the craze for ultra slim trousers was on the rise. However, they did create an unsightly bulge. To get rid of the problem, some men had their ‘crown jewels’ pierced so that it could be hooked to a ring on the inside of the trousers. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria was reputed to have had his penis pierced prior to his marriage for this reason.
Body piercing became a mainstream fad between the 70s and 90s. Over the years, the practice has become increasingly popular amongst the Irish.
So, why do people get piercings today? Piercing of the body is done for a number of reasons from religion and culture to sexual pleasure and rebellion. For most, it is an act of self expression.
With so many tattoo and piercing businesses available in most towns, it’s hard to know which one is best. The frightening thing is, there is no regulations for such business in Ireland.
There are no registration requirements, no minimum standards to be attained before opening such a business, no basic training requirements for staff and no age of consent or medical history requirements for those availing of such services. Consequently, these premises are not included in any inspection programme by Environmental Health Officers and receive no visits from any inspector.
Noel O’Neill, body piercer at Tattoo Zoo in Cork said: “All good tattoo and body piercing establishments should have a clean room. All needles should be individually sealed and then dumped after each use.”
Know the risks
Infection is the biggest risk associated with body piercing. Sometimes, an abscess forms around the piercing site. If left untreated, this has the potential to develop into blood poisoning or toxic shock syndrome, which can be very serious. A tongue piercing has a higher chance of infection while piercing the ears is generally safe.
Bare in mind that pieces of metal are not supposed to be lodged in the body so the piercing may be rejected. While all piercings have specific healing times, others may just not settle. In order to protect itself, your body slowly fights the object by pushing it and healing the skin behind it to eventually force the object completely out through the skin.
Other than the possibility of infection and rejection, there are piercings that can cause other problems. Oral piercings can cause speech impediments and chipped teeth while genital piercings may cause problems with sexual activity and passing of urine. While infection is possible, with proper care you have a good chance avoiding problems.
Hygiene and care
Any good body piercer will give you instructions on how to care for your new piercing. To avoid problems, you will need to pay careful attention and clean the wound regularly.
“People don’t know how much care is needed for a new piercing. Piercings should be cleaned with a saline solution like salt and water. Using antiseptics will only prevent the wound from healing. The saline solution will keep it clean while it heals. One girl came in after using an antiseptic which had burned her skin.
"You should also buy titanium jewellery; cheap bars and rings may contain nickel, which can cause irritation. Also, make sure the bar you buy is sealed and has been sanitised,” the Tattoo Zoo employee said.
If your piercing becomes infected, the surrounding skin may be red and swollen. It will probably hurt when you touch it and may produce a yellow discharge. If you have a fever or any of the above symptoms, see your GP immediately. A delay in treatment can result in a serious infection. Leave your jewellery in unless your doctor tells you to take it out. This will ensure proper drainage and prevent an abscess from forming.
In many cases, the infection can be treated without losing the piercing. Minor infections may be treated with antibiotic cream, and a more serious infection may need antibiotic tablets. Your doctor will be able to give you advice about which treatment is best for you.
For more information about body piercing and aftercare see www.hse.ie