Do you have an infected tongue piercing? What are the signs and symptoms you will notice or how do you tell if you have an infection? What about treatment options?
It is a fact that over the past few decades, tongue piercing has become popular among people from all walks of life. If you are considering such a piercing, you need to ensure you take good care of your piercing to avoid any infection since your tongue is a very sensitive area.
Together, let us explore the causes, signs, treatment options, how to clean an infected pierced tongue and much more.
Your mouth is a host of many bacteria, both the symbiotically beneficial and pathogenic ones. This should not scare you because, according to NHS Choices “tongue piercings carry a small risk of bacterial infection, despite the high number of bacteria present inside the mouth.”
The prevalence or infection rate stands at “an estimated 20% infection rate of intraoral piercing” [examiner.com].
From the above facts, it is obvious that the chances of getting tongue ring infections are low. However, this does not rule out its occurrence completely. Therefore, you should ensure proper oral hygiene, whether you have a piercing or not. Infected tongue rings are often caused by some of the pathogenic bacteria which might be as a result of many reasons that include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Dirty conditions and the use of contaminated piercing equipment
- Touching your pierced with dirty hands
- Poor aftercare
- Trauma and injuries
To reduce the chance of an infection, “it would be wise to brush your teeth or cleanse your mouth before asking for a tongue piercing” [nhs.uk].
Normal infections should not worry you much. There are some life-threatening and potentially dangerous infections you might develop which include:
This is caused by bacteria common on your mouth surface and below your tongue which is characterized by “difficulty speaking, eating, swallowing, experience drooling, and develop a fever or chills” [examiner.com]. In some cases, a swollen tongue can block your airway. Ludwig's angina can also cause neck pain, swelling, and redness.
This occurs if a bacteria or other pathogenic organisms enter your bloodstream and live on the lining of hour heart and valves and thus damaging it. Such an infection can enter your bloodstream through your pierced tongue.
Severe brain infection (brain abscesses)
In 2010, Huffington Post reported brain infection with Streptococcus intermedius which is normally found on the upper respiratory tract and mouth in two victims who had undergone tongue or oral piercings i.e. the” bacterium is part of the normal flora of the mouth and upper respiratory tract, but when the germ gets inside the body it forms life-threatening abscesses in the liver, brain or inner lining of the heart” [huffingtonpost.com].
Signs and symptoms
How do I know if my tongue piercing is infected? Is simple. Look at the various signs and symptoms you may be having.
A pierced tongue will take about 6-8 weeks to heal completely. This period might be shorter for some people while in others, it might take slightly longer. During the first one or two weeks after the procedure, swelling, and a little irritation are normal. This might not indicate you have an infection.
However, when it is infected, here are some symptoms that are likely to appear during the healing process or even after years. Don’t be surprised if you have an infection after 5 years.
Swelling and tenderness
The first way to tell if the piercing is infected is swelling and tenderness. We have already mentioned swelling as something expected immediately after you have your piercing. However, if this persists and makes talking or swallowing difficult, you need to get medical attention since your tongue ring might be infected.
Redness and inflammation
The second symptom is redness. You expect mild redness immediately after the procedure and it should disappear after a few days. However, if the swelling worsens, has inflammation and/or it is painful, you might be having an infection.
The other sign of is bleeding. Be careful about bleeding since it can be one of the dangers i.e. you might have a punctured vein. As NHS Choices notes, in their article on ‘Risks Associated with Body Piercings’ notes, “bleeding from the vein under the front of the tongue can also occur if the piercing is too close to it.”
Although some bleeding is expected and it is normal, if there is a lot of bleeding or bleeding after the healing process is complete and you did not get injured, it could point out the possibility of an infection or the piercing needle might have gone through a vein.
Discharge like pus and discoloration
If you have a whitish discharge, this is normal. However, in case of a “yellow or green discharge from the piercing site” [webmd.com], you need to seek medical attention immediately to avoid spread since it is a likely sign of an infection.
Other common signs you should be wary of include:
- Low-level fever that persists after a piercing
- “A pimple-like abscess on the piercing site [webmd.com]
- Tissue darkening and thickening around the piercing site as well as some scarring and formation of a tissue scar
- Allergic reactions which are commonly caused by the jewelry used.
- Increased flow of saliva
These are some of the ways on how to tell if it is infected.
Sometimes you might get a bump on the pierced site which could also be as a result of your infection. It can be treated using saline solution and other treatments we will discuss afterward.
The infected piercing treatment option you will opt for will depend on the extent of infection as well as what could be behind it. If you notice any serious infection, you need to see your doctor for a diagnosis. This will confirm the cause of your infection and make treatment easier. Generally, here is how to treat an infected tongue piercing:
By use of antibiotics
In case the cause of your infection is bacteria. You should be given oral antibiotics. However, you need to get a diagnosis before the doctor can prescribe the right antibiotics.
Sea salt + water
A mixture of sea salt and water is effective in treating infected tongue rings at their initial stages. Ensure you rinse or gargle your mouth with this saline solution after every meal. If you want to make your own saline solution, mix a half a teaspoon of sea salt with 8 ounces of water.
Other treatments can be helpful in treating an infected tongue ring include
- The use of alcohol-free mouthwashes such as Listerine. Do not use hydrogen peroxide since it can cause crusting.
- Try warm salt water compress
- To reduce swelling or pain, chew small ice chips
Cleaning and prevention
As you continue with treatment, you need to ensure you clean your piercing to speed up the healing process. Since the piercing is in your mouth, the best way to clean it is using saline solution (a mixture of sea salt and water). This solution will be good during healing process or even for the case of piercing ring infection after years.
After you have brushed your teeth and done other routine dental and mouth washing procedures, you should rinse your mouth sea salt and water mixture. Do this after every meal. This will accelerate the healing process as well as treat minor infections that are in their early stages.
When cleaning using sea salt and water mixture, ensure you remove all the food particles around your piercing during the cleaning process.
To help prevent infection, stop drinking coffee, alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Furthermore, avoid foods that have a lot of spices or those that cause irritations such mashed bananas, potatoes, cold soups, etc.
Also, avoid oral sex or kissing during the healing process as this can introduce a lot of germs into your mouth that can cause an infection.
Finally, you need to ensure you use a toothbrush with soft bristles to avoid injuring your tongue ring piercing.
Sources and references