What just happened to me and do I need to worry?
June 15, 2007 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I suddenly have an achy arm and a swollen, itchy armband tattoo. The tat is 3 years old!

I'm sittin' here mindin' my own business and suddenly my inner bicep starts itching insanely. Take off my sweater and its swelling and red and itchy all the way around my arm - following my 3 year old armband tattoo. The outlines of the tattoo are raised and the whole area of and surrounding the band is red. My shoulder feels achy. I can only assume something bit me, on the tattoo, but there's nothing nearby or in my clothes. I've put Stingoes all around my arm so it's not itchy at the moment, but the ache is very present. Am I gonna keel over or something?
posted by andihazelwood to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I get this occasionally with all of my tattoos, this link pretty much sums up all the possible reasons I've been given over the years.
posted by paxton at 6:31 PM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: That is weird. I have 10 tats, some are 15+ years old, and have never had this before now. The reaction is subsiding now, so obviously nothing serious. I kinda hope it was a bug bite as opposed to a random skin reaction!
posted by andihazelwood at 6:39 PM on June 15, 2007

I dunno if I believe that link so much. Saying things like, "when it's hot, your tattoo swells" is a little odd.

I get this all the time with mine, especially the three that were done slightly poorly (by an apprentice with a heavy hand). They scarred more, so they act more like scars, which can be tempramental sometimes. I just use some form of soothing aloe or anti-itch creme, or ignore it. Hope that it's not an allergy, because that sure sucks. If it starts blistering or scabbing, there might not be much you can do, but consider seeing a skilled tattoo artist for advice (or a doctor might be able to give you some prescription creme).
Is the tattoo colored at all? I'm assuming it's black with a black outline. The outline is raised (and not the filler) because they tend to use different thicker ink for the outline to help "hold" the shape (sorry if you already knew this).
posted by nursegracer at 6:51 PM on June 15, 2007

Have you ever worn that sweater before? Maybe something in the dye from the sweater reacted badly with the tattoo?
posted by misha at 6:53 PM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: the majority of it is black, though one small section includes red and blue. the whole thing swelled equally and is subsiding equally - it was also done by three different artists at 3 different times in 2 different countries so there's lotsa different inks in there.

And I did already know about the thicker ink, but no worries ;)
posted by andihazelwood at 6:57 PM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: Misha, very old sweater, that I've worn practically out. Perhaps two days in the same sweater could be related!
posted by andihazelwood at 6:58 PM on June 15, 2007

It sounds like your piece has been worked a lot, which could lead to easier irritation. I've found that sweat and chafing and other such things irritate my back tattoos (which were done by an apprentice) even if I've owned the clothing forever. It shouldn't be a worry.
posted by nursegracer at 7:00 PM on June 15, 2007

Yep, happens to me all the time. Usually when there's heat or pressure or friction on the tat. I think of it like how the skin reacts to allergy or sun poisoning (basically, too much sun). It's kind of neat though, because you can run your fingers over the tattoo and feel it out like braille.

The itchiness is just histamine releasing = allergic reaction.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:06 PM on June 15, 2007

I also have pretty terrible environmental allergies, the itching and swelling seems to only happen during on occasion when my allergies would also be likely to act up.

Pigments in tattoo inks are usually metal salts and plastics, so heat and humidity would seem to be enough to cause a skin reaction.
posted by paxton at 7:09 PM on June 15, 2007

Response by poster: okay, glad to know the raised thing even at this age of tattoo is not unusual. the suddenness that it came on and particularly the sore shoulder (which remains, dammit, even though the rest of the reaction has pretty much gone) still makes me think mosquito or wasp or ant or something. In any case, it would appear I ain't gonna keel over! Thanks all.
posted by andihazelwood at 7:11 PM on June 15, 2007

Happens to me too, but I only notice it when I get a bug bite near a tattoo. When I start to scratch the bite, the entire tattoo swells up.
posted by Ugh at 7:38 PM on June 15, 2007

Normal. I've got some heavy blackwork (about ten years old), and it occasionally swells slightly and itches like mad. It seems to be related to heat/annoying clothing. I scratch, use lotion, or ignore it.
posted by rtha at 9:12 PM on June 15, 2007

This also happens to me when I'm about to get sick.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:18 PM on June 15, 2007

Sounds like an allergic reaction. Keep some Benadryl or Claratin on hand if it happens again. Benadryl will make you sleepy, Claritin takes 2-3 hours to kick in. I once broke out in hives over my entire torso for no obvious reason. It went away in a few days and never came back.

Allergies are terribly weird things.
posted by chairface at 9:28 PM on June 15, 2007

Wow, thanks for asking this. The same thing happened to me for the first time this week on a 3 year old tattoo on my back. And I was thinking, "Oh, great, now my back is going to fall off, and my parents will end up being right about not getting tattooed. How lame."
It is great to know that this isn't super abnormal (and it was only mildly irritating for about three days in my case) so that my tattoo joy can continue.
posted by honeyx at 9:54 PM on June 15, 2007

I've had it happen many times too, and it usually happens when I'm having an allergic reaction to something.
posted by drezdn at 5:28 AM on June 16, 2007

This happens to my older tattoos every year now when it starts to get warmer outside and my allergies in general start acting up. For some reason the black ink is what is always raised and itchy and all the bright colors I have don't seem to be bothered. My doctor said she thought it might be a reaction to allergens that get in my sweat and then react with the ink in a weird way.

For me it won't go away until I stop itching it, so just throw some Benadryl cream on there and leave it alone.
posted by trishthedish at 7:05 AM on June 16, 2007

This happens to me a lot when my allergies are acting up. Not on all of my many tattoos, or even all of ONE tattoo. But areas of some tattoos that were perhaps 'overdone' . It's itchy and annoying, but usually goes away after a few hours.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:48 AM on June 18, 2007

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