Dear Dr Eva,
I’ve been thinking for a while about getting my nipples pierced. I like the idea of having them pierced, but at the same time I wonder what will happen if I have a baby and decide to breastfeed. Could the nipples get damaged from piercing in a way that could interfere with feeding a baby?
Healing time after nipple piercing can take as little as six weeks or as much as six months, depending on how your particular skin type heals. Unless you’re prone to scar or develop keloids (an unusually thick scar), piercing your nipples should not interfere with breast-feeding. There are many milk ducts in each nipple and only a few are damaged by piercing. Nipple jewelry should be removed in the sixth month of pregnancy to allow the nipples to heal before beginning breast-feeding. You can start wearing your nipple jewelry again three months after you stop breast-feeding. At that point, the nipples might have to be re-pierced: piercings often will close after months of non-use.
Dear Dr. Eva,
Will getting my genitals pierced put me at greater risk for sexually transmitted infections?
Not pierced yet
Years ago, it was thought that once a piercing completely healed, the pierced person was not at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STD’s). More recent research suggests that may not be true. In a study from Australia based on interviews of 75 gay men who were recently infected with HIV, five of the men had picked up HIV by receiving oral sex. Of those five, three had genital piercings. This suggests that for HIV at least, and likely other infections as well, having a piercing increases risk of acquiring infections. This is probably because having genital jewelry causes constant microtrauma, resulting in small open wounds around the jewelry that become entry sites for infections.
Dear Dr. Eva,
I am considering getting a body piercing or tattoo. Is it possible to pick up any infections, especially HIV, from piercing or tattoos? How can I tell if the procedure is done safely?
It is not common, but it is possible to get HIV, and more often viral hepatitis C, when getting a piercing or a tattoo if sterile methods aren’t used. The most important safety factor in getting a piercing is to make sure that the needle used for piercing your skin is brand new and could not have been used on anyone else. To make sure of this, the piercer should let you see the needle in its sterile packaging before it is opened. It is also possible, although less likely, to get a viral infection transmitted via tattooing ink. A responsible tattoo artist will use new sterile containers of ink for each client. Again, you should see the sealed tattoo ink packets being opened. Some artists pour ink from a large bottle into individual disposable containers for each client. This is a safe technique as long as no needles are ever placed in the large bottle to draw ink.
It is much more common to get a bacterial infection after piercing, rather than a viral infection like HIV or hepatitis. Because bacteria is always present on the skin, bacterial infections can occur with any piercing but they are most common with navel (belly button) piercings. Signs of infection include pain, redness, swelling, warmth in the pierced area, and fluid or pus draining from the piercing.
Tongue piercing deserves a special mention, because it carries extra risks. If the tongue swells after piercing, it can interfere with breathing. If tongue jewelry breaks or becomes loose it can cause choking. Chips and cracks in the teeth are also common after tongue piercing. Tongue piercing is also unique in that the tongue is a muscle rather than skin. The function of the tongue muscle can be permanently damaged by piercing.
Dear Dr. Eva,
What is a PA? Is it the same as a Prince Albert?
A Prince Albert or PA piercing is a type of penis piercing in which a metal ring is passed through the urethra (the urine outlet), through the glans (tip) and out the undersurface of the penis, just below the glans.
The name is based on the rumor that Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert had one of these piercings. PA’s make a dramatic fashion statement, but often cause problems. Piercing through the urethra can create a permanent tract which never heals, resulting in urine flowing from the base of the piercing in an unattractive and messy spray. PA’s also increase the risk of urinary infections.
Dear Dr. Eva,
Will body jewelry set off a metal detector?
Typical sized body jewelry will not set off most walk-through metal detectors, but may be detected by a hand held screening wand. Be prepared for an interesting conversation!
Eva Hersh is a Baltimore family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at email@example.com.
- Eva Hersh is a family physician. Send your comments and questions to her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org