Advice on an infected piercing.
February 7, 2004 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Advice on an infected piercing.

I got my belly button pierced on a whim when I was 18, and because I was stupid about it, I let it get infected right away and didn't take care of it. Flash forward five years later, it's still on and off infected and has never healed properly. I would like to take the damn thing out completely, but everywhere I've read advises against that as an abscess might form. I've googled on this, and only found advice pertaining to infections within a few months after the piercing, not five years (obviously, because most people aren't as dumb about it as I was). Is there anything, beyond going to the doctor and getting an antibiotic, I can do to help heal it finally? Or is too far gone for my own home remedies?
posted by Zosia Blue to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Infected right now? Get a prescription for antibiotics and TAKE THE WHOLE COURSE.
Salt water washes twice a day EVERY day. Hot compresses, ditto.

Management of this sort of infection is all about compliance. You drop a day of your treatment regimen, you're back at square zero.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:35 PM on February 7, 2004

Are you sure it's not a metal allergy? For months after I first got my ears pierced back in the day, my lobes were a horrible mess no matter what I did to take care of them. Ten years later, had stitches in my leg after surgery and the same thing happened. Both reactions presented as infection, but it turns out that I'm allergic to even the tracest amounts of nickel. Once the metal was outta there, all was well, though I remember being put on a course of antibiotics while it was all healing up just in case.

So you might want to check with a dermatologist... a five-year recurring "infection" just doesn't sound right to me.
posted by kittyb at 12:47 PM on February 7, 2004

if it really is an infection that has lasted this long even off and on you should see a doctor. you're not re-piercing it are you? i don't see how it could get re-infected unless you were. i think kittyb's analysis is probably more accurate, and it is just getting inflammation because of the abrasion or allergy something.

Regardless I would still see a doctor, if it is actually infected that is pretty serious, and if its allergies you would need to remove it, and a doctor could help you out with outcomes there also.
posted by rhyax at 12:55 PM on February 7, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. I'm definitely not re-piercing it. It always seems like it will heal for a month or so, and then it becomes red, swollen and full of whiteish puss (sorry for the image there). That particular cycle has gone on for the entire five years, and has never spread beyond the piercing, so a metal allergy might be the culprit.

On that note, are most doctors piercing-friendly nowadays? Also, would a dermatologist be better suited for this kind of thing than a regular doctor? Thanks again.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:04 PM on February 7, 2004

IANAD, but I've been treating and dealing with my own piercings since the 80's. One thing about belly button piercings is that since your belly moves around a lot, there is a large chance of cracking the skin or tugging which can increase the chances of opening wounds and infection. It's also a curved pircing which is less resilient to stress than a straight one, in my experience. If you have a ring, have you tried going to a curved barbell?

The other problem is that navel piercings go deep and can heal on the outside while still harboring some infection on the inside which leads to abcessing. Abcesses are gross but treatable with prompt medical care. Try to wait until you seem to be infection-free before even atetmpting to remove it. If you have some access to medical care, I would do what adam suggests, wait for an infection-free time, get on antibiotics, and take out the ring. Most doctors I have dealt with have been piercing friendly, but some aren't. However, since you are taking it out, you can always play the "hey, help me go straight..." angle and hope for the best if you meet a bad one. If you have a largish gauge in there, drop down to a smaller one, and eventually remove it. Be on the lookout for the signs of infection [which it seems like you know already] such as redness, swelling, pain and heat. Keep the outsides of the hole clean and free of crusty dried lymph build-up, and otherwise follow all the aftercare instructions you got when you got the piercing in terms of not touching it, watching what you wear and cleaning it often.
posted by jessamyn at 1:16 PM on February 7, 2004

Mostly echoing everything jessamy said. I have been pierced multiple times over the last 15 years or so. I have seen plenty of navels that never did well for extended periods. The depth, the constant manipulation by clothes and the wide degree of motion of the stomach muscles has made this one a problematic piercing for people who usually heal fine. My wife just had to give up on hers and I know a smattering of other people who never healed completely. You can probably try a few things (change metals, change shapes, wearing nothing but sweat pants for 6 months etc) and still pull it out in 3 years. If you do keep it, I have always found that highly salty and very hot water (don't scald yourself) poured into a towel and held on the piercing will pull tons of stuff out and has helped me and numerous other people I know through problematic times.

You could always pull it out and pierce somewhere else, a number of other places heal fast and easy.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 1:32 PM on February 7, 2004

Response by poster: Man, you people are helpful. Thank you. I'm not really upset about potentially losing the piercing. Piercing, while I enjoy it on other people, has never really been my thing and mine came about during a drunken dare at the beach after high school graduation. As those things do.

But thanks. I'm going to do the salt-and-hot compress thing, and give my doctor a call.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:35 PM on February 7, 2004

For the hot compresses, may I suggest that you purchase a package of 50 cotton wool pads from the Body Shop (they run about $2.50). I used them for hot saltwater compresses on a stubborn cartilage piercing that didn't want to heal and they worked out really well. No lint, they hold up really well to being soaked with water, larger than the cotton pads that you get at the drugstore, disposable...
posted by eilatan at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2004

The depth, the constant manipulation by clothes and the wide degree of motion of the stomach muscles has made this one a problematic piercing for people who usually heal fine.

yup. what jessamyn and spartacus said (and I'll restress : don't touch it more than necessary! -- I got a number of infections my nervously fiddling with my earrings); when I had piercings, all of my facial ones healed fine (except for the eyebrow, which was a surface piercing, so whatever, oh, and the septum which was pierced wrong -- long story) but my nipple rings were constantly a problem. Basically, I'd chalk it up to the fact that they were 1) constantly rubbing against a shirt or whatever, and 2) said shirt being of questionable cleanliness, being that i was an eighteen year old in college without easy access to washing machines (and ok, not necessarily enchanted by the bourgeosie chores of hygiene, ok?).

hot sea-salt compresses work freaking wonders, in my experience. I'd get it as hot as you can stand (in your microwave or on your stove or whatever), and then use paper towels to soak the piercing in -- it'll draw out a little bit of funk usually, so once the paper towel cools you can throw it away and soak a new one. My ears got infected shortly after they were pierced and the salt-water compresses fixed this right up.

i don't know how things are nowadays, but i know doctors have not always been perceived as the most piercing-friendly people in the world, so you might get advice skewed toward removing it -- as far as that goes, I can tell you that i took out all my piercings about 4 years ago and they all healed up quite nicely (different amounts of time, of course, depending on the location and the gauge.)

although i have a little bit of wistful nostalogia for my earrings and lip ring, i don't miss my nipple rings one bit -- those were a pain in the ass. plus, everyone conveniently forgot i had them when the "titty twisters" where being handed out. if your navel ring is causing you a lot of grief, you might just want to take it out.
posted by fishfucker at 3:09 PM on February 7, 2004

I've had my navel pierced for 6 1/2 years, and I have successfully healed that as well as 12 of the other 14 piercings I have had. To me, the description of your symptoms (red, swollen, and whitish pus) sound more like a metal allergy than an infection. Infections usually have yellow or greenish pus, sometimes with a foul aroma (sorry if I've offended the squeamish).

I had my navel initially pierced with a 14ga captive bead ring, and it was constantly irritated by clothing and movement. As soon as I switched to a 14ga curved barbell (the ones that are shaped like a banana), it stopped being red and sore and healed quickly. However, if you have a metal allergy, you may want to switch it to a titanium ring or barbell - titanium is nickel-free and rarely causes allergic reactions.

A trick for sea salt soaks with navels - first, mix up a solution of 1/4 teaspoon sea salt in 8 ounces of water. Mix well. Make it as warm as you can stand it (few seconds in the microwave should do the trick) and then fill up a shot glass with the solution, lean forward, put the shot glass over your navel, make sure it's flush with the skin, and then lean back and relax for 10 minutes or so. Do it twice a day. It helps draw out the lymph (the whitish 'pus' you're seeing) and other irritants and will help your piercing heal.

Of course, if the source of the irritation is a metal allergy, the irritation will return until you change out the jewelry for something you're not allergic to.
posted by bedhead at 10:56 PM on February 7, 2004

Also, check this out: metal allergy description. The photo is kind of gross, but does illustrate an extreme metal allergy. Yours doesn't sound quite as extreme as this one, but still thought you might like to read the information.
posted by bedhead at 11:00 PM on February 7, 2004

I know I am a bit late to this thread, but I hope I can add something. As noted above, navel piercings are among the slowest to heal; not only for the reasons above (which are all valid) but because the navel has a poor blood supply which is needed both for healing and for avoiding infection. Contrast the navel with ears, facial, nipple, and genital piercings; all of these tend to heal much more quickly and with fewer infections than navels. You could easily have both a chronic infection and a reaction to the metal in your jewelry. I would suggest taking the piercing out, keeping the area scrupulously clean while it heals (6-8 weeks or more), and then starting over with the piercing done by someone with experience and the jewelry you use made of material that you know from experience will not react; such as whatever you wear in your ears without problems. If this has been bothering you for five years, then it should be worth it to take 3-4 months to get things right. Good luck.
posted by TedW at 11:56 PM on February 7, 2004

As an addendum: antibiotics should not be needed based on your description. If they are, then remove the piercing and complete the antibiotics before starting the regimen above.
posted by TedW at 12:00 AM on February 8, 2004

« Older Cheap lodging near the Shakespeare Globe adn Tate...   |   Low-end region free DVD players? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.