Is My Belly-Button Piercing Infected?
An infection is the most common complication of a belly-button piercing. Bacteria can easily get into a new piercing, grow, and cause a mild to severe infection. Any type of pollutant, whether it's from your sweat, unclean water, or dirty fingers, can easily be the culprit.
If you think your piercing might be infected, do NOT remove the jewelry. Doing so can block in the infection, causing an abscess beneath the skin. You want to have proper drainage so that the infection can heal.
Signs of Infection
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your piercing is infected or just irritated. Pay close attention, because an infection can get worse, whereas a little time may soothe an irritation. Proper aftercare should prevent any problems, but some people are just more prone to complications than others.
Normal Things to Experience Right After Your Piercing:
- Some swelling, redness, or discoloration
- Clear discharge that dries and forms a crust around the holes
These should get better over time, and not worse.
Never forget that a navel piercing can take six months to a year to heal, no matter how good it looks on the outside.
Depending on how your body heals, it may heal in a shorter time frame, or a longer one. During this period, you will have a higher risk of infection, especially during the first few weeks or months after getting the piercing.
Definite Signs of an Infection
- Greenish-yellow, brown, gray, or off-white discharge
- Foul odor from discharge
- Redness around the piercing, especially a few days afterwards, or a redness that grows more intense
- Skin around the piercing is warm or hot to the touch
- Burning sensation
- Increasing swelling around the piercing area
- Abdominal pain, abdominal infection, and "food poisoning" (if the infection spreads to the entire abdomen)
- Red lines radiating from the piercing site
- Discharge: Clear or very light yellow discharge is normal in a healing piercing. If it's yellowish-green, though, you probably have an infection.
- Pain around the piercing: Although you can expect some bruising and sharp pain, continuing severe pain means there's something wrong.
Not Likely to Be an Infection
- Crustiness or what looks like dead skin. This can be dry skin caused by over-cleaning. Unless it's accompanied by another symptom, you're probably okay.
If you have one of the clear signs of infection, you should start treating immediately to prevent further complications like abscess formation.
The above symptoms can all be caused by bacterial infection. However, if you're having trouble with your piercing, it's possible that you're suffering an allergic reaction to the kind of metal in your jewelry.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- Itchy, spreading rash around piercing area
- A pierced hole that looks bigger than it was before
- Tenderness that comes and goes
If you're having an allergic reaction, see your piercer immediately to have the jewelry replaced.
Treating an Infected Piercing
- Clean the piercing with saline solution or diluted sea salt, just as if it were new. You want to kill the bacteria causing the infection. To do this, dissolve one teaspoon of sea salt in 5 oz of water and turn a cup upside down on your piercing while laying down to submerge it completely for 10 minutes.
- Use a clean cotton swab to gently apply saline solution around the two holes after soaking your piercing.
- DO NOT remove the jewelry, especially if you are experiencing drainage. If you remove the jewelry, the piercing will not drain properly, which can cause an abscess to form as the hole closes up.
- Consider using an antiseptic cream for a mild infection (not an ointment). You don't want to leave a gob of it around the piercing, as this can attract more bacteria, but put a little on the piercing, wiping away the excess. Try carefully pushing the jewelry in and out so that you can get some of the antibiotic cream into the wound.
- If there isn't any pus, consider using a hot compress to increase blood circulation to the area. (Make sure to disinfect the compress with hot water and table salt.)
- You can try using hydrogen peroxide to help drain the pus and clean the area, but NEVER overuse hydrogen peroxide—don't use it more often than once a day—and do not use it as an aftercare option on a new piercing, as it can dry it out and irritate it.
- Have a physician look at the piercing. You may need antibiotics, especially if the infection is spreading.
If you think that your belly-button piercing is infected, don't ignore the symptoms and hope the infection goes away on its own. You want to get it treated before it develops into an abscess or spreads to your abdomen.
Taking Care of an Infected Belly Button Piercing
The best way to treat an infection is to prevent it from developing in the first place by taking good care of your new piercing.
- Always wash your hands before and after cleaning your piercing!
- Use saline or diluted sea salt (not table salt) to soak the site twice a day for the first few weeks, and at least once a day until healed.
- Avoid touching the piercing at all, and when you clean it, use clean cotton swabs instead of towels or loofahs since they can harbor bacteria.
- Do not fiddle with the jewelry, or change the jewelry, until the piercing is healed.
- Avoid tight clothes and activities that can cause friction or damage the piercing.
- Sleep on your back to keep your piercing breathing at night.
- Avoid tanning beds until you are fully healed.
- Avoid wearing dangly belly-button jewelry at any time during the life of your navel piercing; dangling or heavy jewelry can cause irritation.
- Avoid using CBR's (captive bead rings) and other round rings, as this can irritate the piercing, and these rings will snag much easier than a banana barbell. Snagging can irritate and even tear the piercing, depending on how hard the jewelry is pulled.
- Avoid swimming or spending a prolonged period of time with your piercing in water.
- Avoid over-cleaning your piercing since this can cause irritation. Clean it no more than twice a day.
Most important, maintaining proper hygiene is the best way to avoid an infection.
Prepare Yourself for Your Piercing
Navel piercings are one of the most popular piercings for females, after the basic earlobe piercing, and are most common among youth between 12 and 18, but that doesn't mean that middle-aged women can't sport a navel ring.
Because this kind of piercing is quite common, there is a lot of information on the web about it, but not all of the information is accurate.
Before you get your piercing, do some research to make sure that you get the right information and the proper knowledge before you show up at the tattoo shop. If you are informed, you'll find your healing time will be a breeze, and you'll reduce any potential risks.
It takes about six months to a year to properly heal a navel piercing. If you think it is fully healed after a few weeks, think again. The outer area heals well before the inside of the piercing does.
Keep cleaning and following proper aftercare for several more months.
Risks of Belly-Button Piercing
Belly-button piercings are commonly placed on the upper rim of the navel, but they can also be placed on the bottom, left, and right rim.
Whatever the location, there are basic risks that should be considered.
The navel area is subject to sweating, bending, and irritation. Sitting, running, turning around, and other activities can irritate the piercing, as can tight clothes and activities that involve a lot of motion or contact.
Possible complications include:
- Infection (the most common problem with belly-button piercings)
- Excessive bleeding and nerve damage (which may be caused by an inexperienced body piercer that pierces the navel too close to a nerve)
- Allergic reactions to the jewelry. Stainless steel, eight-karat gold, and titanium are ideal for piercings
- Keloids (thick scarring at the piercing site)
- Migration or rejection of the piercing
Causes for concern include:
- Jewelry of the wrong size, type, or metal. Jewelry that is too small may cut off blood supply, as can jewelry that is very thin or too heavy. CBR's and rings can irritate the piercing, and can snag more easily, potentially causing irritation and tears.
- Jewelry of the wrong metal can cause allergic reactions.
- Piercings performed with piercing guns. This causes too much trauma to the piercing site, especially as piercing guns only use stud jewelry, which is WAY too small for a navel piercing, and the piercing gun itself cannot be properly sterilized.
If you want to get a navel piercing, make sure that you choose an experienced body piercer. You also want to make sure that you know proper aftercare processes so that you don't irritate it.
Infections Are Serious. Get Your Parents' Permission.
Because an infection can be pretty serious, and something that shouldn't be messed with, you want to be very careful. This is one of the main reasons that I recommend young teens not get a piercing without their parents' permission.
If an infection develops, you will have to tell your parents, which will get you into bigger trouble because you went behind their back to do something you were told not to do.