Is there a standard location for a tattoo listing allergies?
July 26, 2013 1:01 PM   Subscribe

It just occurred to me that it might be handy if there were a standard location that medical staff could check for a tattoo listing known allergies. Maybe on the bottom of the left foot?

Surely someone has thought of this before, but I can't find any information about it.

I found some temporary tattoos for kids, but I'm talking about something that a) has nothing to do with peanuts or standard allergies, and b) would still be there if I'm found unconscious at age 67.

I'm not going through with this if nobody is going to check for the information. I might not go through with it anyway.
posted by amtho to Health & Fitness (27 answers total)
They normally use bracelets for this. Your medical condition can change over time, and you might want something easier to update than a tattoo.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:04 PM on July 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

Standard location for a medic alert bracelet is on your (typically left) wrist. So if you're gonna tattoo yourself with medical info, that's a good place.

I'd imagine smack over your heart would also be pretty effective.

Might want to add a small caduceus onto the tattoo to clue people in that it's medical info and not just some random song lyrics or something to glance over.

But I agree with tyler--a bracelet might be a better choice for you. I have one. It contains the basic EMERGENCY info and an ID number so they can look up my full medical details with the medic alert company.
posted by phunniemee at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2013

I have a friend with Type I diabetes who has a large (like 8") caduceus and "DIABETIC" tattooed on the inside of his left forearm. I have no idea if that's a standard location but I'll admit it's pretty hard to miss.
posted by workerant at 1:09 PM on July 26, 2013

Response by poster: Bracelets irritate me. Also, I would lose a bracelet. Also, the print would probably have to be reeeeally tiny.

Geez, the idea of getting a tattoo on my wrist is not a pleasant one. My allergies are to various chemicals (including propylene glycol and items with much longer names) and to mugwort. It seems like it would fit better on a foot.

Also, it might be good to use multiple languages somehow.

Is anyone interested in starting a left-foot-adult-allergy-tattoo movement? Or behind-the-left-calf?

FWIW, I have no other tattoos. Not a tattoo person. This would not be for decorative purposes at all. Not that I'm going to do it.
posted by amtho at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2013

Tattoos fade with time. Skin loosens and gets liver-spotty, sprouts hair, and all the other wonderful things that come with age. That combination means that if you want life saving information written on you to remain legibile into your golden years, it'll have to be tattooed large (no part of the foot is large enough IMO) and bold, in an area that stays out of the sun and doesn't get a lot of physical contact. Plus, you'll need to get it touched up at least a number of times.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2013

Yeah, I think that EMTs are going to look at your wrist first. I think a tattoo on your foot isn't going to so much good, but one on the wrist might. MedicAlert also makes necklaces.

They also look at your phone I think - under ICE (in case of emergency) in your contact list, where you could list allergies as a comment on the contact.
posted by k8lin at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Feet tattoos are notorious for rapid blurring and fading.
It would be a poor area for a text based tattoo.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bracelets don't have to contain all of the information - just an alert as to the type of problem and the phone number to call for details.
posted by metahawk at 1:34 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This article says that there is no standard location. It mentions anecdotal stories of diabetics who have received positive feedback from medical personnel about their tattoos, but all of the ones described are, like the one belonging to workerant's friend, pretty huge and hard to miss. There seems to be no standardly-followed procedure that would result in doctors or emergency room personnel knowing to check a particular location for a small tattoo.
posted by MsMolly at 1:52 PM on July 26, 2013

No one is going to look at the bottom of your foot. Get a medic alert bracelet. That's what the emergency responders are going to look for if they look for anything.
posted by thylacine at 1:56 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think in your position, I'd try to mimic the layout and logo on a typical medic alert bracelet and go with the left forearm (just above the wrist), or on the chest near your heart. Besides being a common location for medic alert bracelets/tags, these are locations people will be looking at if they need to give you emergency care. I don't want people screwing around with taking my shoes off to look for a tattoo on my foot - I'd rather put the info in a place they're looking anyways.

If bracelets annoy you, how about medic alert dogtag-type thing engraved with the info you could wear around your neck?
posted by rmd1023 at 1:58 PM on July 26, 2013

Also, I would lose a bracelet.

No, you probably wouldn't.

I've had the same one on my wrist since 2006. It has come off only once, intentionally, a few months ago, and it required pliers to remove.

You don't put all your info on the bracelet. You write FATAL ALLERGIES TO COMMON CHEMICALS AND MUGWORT and include an ID number and medic alert service phone number.
posted by phunniemee at 1:58 PM on July 26, 2013

Best answer: Another possible concern is that tattoo ink often contains at least one of your allergens, propylene glycol.
posted by Ery at 2:04 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm unclear of your condition, and you don't need to disclose it. However, nearly all the medical altert tattoos I have seen have been near the wrist or forearm. In addition, they usually make a note of a medical condition that would require a certain course of treatment by first responders - such as diabetes. (See this article.)
If you have some severe allergies, then a note about that may be useful if you couldn't get to an epipen in time. However, if you have allergies related to drugs that EMTs would give you, I'm not sure how useful it would be, unless you would immediately die from that allergy. It depends on the severity.

If you have multiple allergies, I would just go with a bracelet or necklace. You can get a medical alert tattoo still, but as others have mentioned - a tattoo can fade and can't be easily changed or updated based on allergies or conditions.

Personally, if I had a condition that was that severe I wouldn't take my chances with a tattoo and would have a bracelet or necklace. That is something that EMTs will for sure be looking for and will recognize.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:21 PM on July 26, 2013

Response by poster: My allergies aren't life-threatening, as far as I know.

IV mugwort would probably kill me, since it's a very severe allergy, but I'm not really worried about that. IV propylene glycol seems unlikely, but I really don't do well with the many shampoos and laundry detergents that contain it. Any kind of scent might give me a migraine with vomiting (shampoo or laundry, etc.).

I'm also allergic to some steroids. Honestly, I forget which ones, so maybe something I could easily read myself would be nice. I also have a special prescription for a topical antibiotic since polysporin/neosporin irritates my skin.

I just don't want to be unconscious and have a well-meaning nurse or volunteer give me an allergic reaction. Yuck.

It just didn't seem practical to try for a medical alert bracelet for all of that. If anybody has other suggestions, I'd love to hear it, and future me will thank you :)

I know a lot of people have these kinds of issues -- maybe there needs to be a new standard.

Thanks for the heads up about tattoo ink. That would have been pretty bad.
posted by amtho at 3:05 PM on July 26, 2013

Your allergies aren't life threatening and the things you are allergic to are not going to be injected into you in an emergency situation where you cannot talk.

As a nurse, I find this idea sort of on the, "Huh" continuum, not the "Woah, cool! That was helpful!" continuum.
posted by latkes at 4:54 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

The difficult thing about this is that small text-based tattoos have a tendency to blur or fade over the years. You would have to be very careful about the placement (and somewhere like your foot is probably not an option at all), and you'd probably find yourself going back for periodic touch ups.

All that seems like a lot of work for, as others have said, something that is likely not life threatening and not likely to be administered to you when you're unable to talk. And if it is life threatening -- as in the case of shellfish and bee stings -- the people around you are going to notice you've gone into anaphylactic shock long before they think to search your body for tattoos.

You should just wear a bracelet or something if this is of vital importance.
posted by Sara C. at 5:36 PM on July 26, 2013

I believe you can have medic alert bracelets that ask the rescuer to call a 24hr service to get your medical information and history. That would be useful if the information is too long to put on a bracelet.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:44 PM on July 26, 2013

I'm also allergic to some steroids. Honestly, I forget which ones...

I think what you need is a card in your wallet, not any kind of medic alert bracelet or tattoo. The card would be useful for you in situations where you're conscious (I'm especially thinking of medical paperwork and doctor's appointments), and could be of help if you're ever in need of emergency attention.

...polysporin/neosporin irritates my skin.

I just don't want to be unconscious and have a well-meaning nurse or volunteer give me an allergic reaction. Yuck.

I think you're unclear about how hospitals work. Usually when you're admitted under non-emergency circumstances, you supply the hospital with all the relevant information, either yourself by filling out paperwork or via your medical records sent from your regular doctor's office. Important allergy information is going to be on your chart, so no competent nurse is going to administer anything that you're allergic to. And I can't think of a situation where a "volunteer" would be administering anything without the permission of a doctor or nurse.

Your real concern is going to be emergency situations where you might be unconscious. And it sounds like it's vanishingly unlikely that any of your allergies are going to be a problem in that situation. I mean, would it suck to wake up in the hospital with a rash after being in an accident severe enough to leave you unconscious? I guess. But that rash is really going to be the least of your worries.
posted by Sara C. at 5:45 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might consider getting a RoadID — a Wrist ID Slim, maybe. If you go for the "interactive" version you have the option of updating your allergy/contact information at any time.

I've been wearing their Wrist ID Elite for a couple of years now, and it feels very low-profile and inconspicuous.
posted by Lexica at 8:56 PM on July 26, 2013

Response by poster: I should have been clearer that this wasn't really a Medic-Alert question, but more for non-emergency situations.

In case anyone is interested, here's the thought that really catalyzed this idea: imagine you're 85, bedridden, and somewhat demented. You probably don't want a crusty oozing itchy allergic reaction, which could easily develop into an infection, at the same time. Also, the year is 2055 and many infections aren't really treatable, so you're likely to suffer a lot. Furthermore, you're allergic to half the steroids that are commonly used to treat allergic reactions.

You're not super-wealthy, and the retirement facility where you live employs nice people, but they don't always have a lot of time to double-check your records. They're also unlikely to call a special phone number every time you need a shampoo or a band-aid.

The one time someone forgets to check your records, you're likely to be given the same shampoo everyone else is using, or the same topical steroids everyone else is using, or maybe even an herbal remedy as a gift. You're not completely with it, so it's unlikely you yourself will check everything every time.

This is how a bad thing could happen.

At the same time, I'm not obsessing about this, it's just an idle idea I had.

(I already have a card in my wallet, though, thanks!)
posted by amtho at 9:53 PM on July 26, 2013

imagine you're 85, bedridden, and somewhat demented. You probably don't want a crusty oozing itchy allergic reaction, which could easily develop into an infection, at the same time. Also, the year is 2055 and many infections aren't really treatable, so you're likely to suffer a lot. Furthermore, you're allergic to half the steroids that are commonly used to treat allergic reactions.

Yeah, there would be a medical chart attached to your bed that would contain your allergy information.
posted by Sara C. at 10:05 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your scenario doesn't really jive with reality. Any medication given in a nursing home or hospital has to be prescribed by an MD (or nurse practitioner or PA) and won't just be randomly handed out to you. Checking for allergies before prescribing is de rigueur.

In the event that the facility uses a propylene glycol based, mugwort-scented soap on all patients, I guess your scenario could happen, but the reality is these not-paying-attention nurses aides or whatever are not likely to be looking you over for tattoos - plus in this scenario you are old and your tattoos have become unreadable due to skin changes and time.

The steroid allergy is the most concerning here as it could actually be given to you in an emergency, so it's worth finding out which steroid is the problem, (although it's also possible you don't actually have an allergy to it, but perhaps had some other kind of adverse reaction. Even penicillin allergy, one of the most common drug allergies is much less common than is generally believed.)

If I were you, I would put my energy into strong relationships with loved ones who will advocate for you when you are hospitalized or old. Having someone who knows you at your side is absolutely one of the most important things you can have to protect you when you're in any kind of institutionalized care.
posted by latkes at 8:34 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Shampoo isn't prescribed by MDs.

Neither are many topical steroids.

This information is from MD-performed allergy tests.

I'm probably not going to have any friends who are younger than I am.
posted by amtho at 9:29 AM on July 27, 2013

Think seriously about this, though.

Do you really seriously 100% want to have a huge visible tattoo on an obvious part of your body like your arm that says I AM ALLERGIC TO SHAMPOO, just on the off chance that someday, you will be completely alone in some kind of nursing home or hospice or whatever and some uncaring person might use the wrong product on you, resulting in a rash?

There are probably easier ways to insure that this is less likely to happen, is all I'm saying.
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on July 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the comment -- no, I'm probably not going to do this thing. I might consider it when I'm older, though, maybe, although I do think it will look awful -- maybe another idea will come to me.
posted by amtho at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2013

Shampoo isn't prescribed by MDs.

This is silly. It is trivial to make a note that "patient 134 requires this brand of shampoo because she's allergic to a common ingredient in the regular brand." At any nursing home that isn't criminally negligent, that is what would happen.
posted by kagredon at 5:41 PM on July 31, 2013

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