Risks and Consequences of Body Modification

Risks and Consequences of Body ModificationDoes your teenage daughter want to pierce her naval or your son pierce his ear cartilage? Piercing the body—also known as body modification—can cause serious health problems, including chronic infections, hepatitis B and C, tetanus, and nerve damage. Before allowing your teen to pierce, make sure he or she understands the risks and consequences of body modification.

While earlobe piercing usually heals well with proper care, cartilage piercing (the upper areas of the ears) takes longer to heal and can be quite prone to infection. A report on the Children’s MD website states, “Even with meticulous care, cartilage piercings become infected about 30% of the time.” However any site can become infected. If caught early infections can be treated with oral antibiotics. However, hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics may be necessary for piercings that become severely infected.

WebMD lists these additional problems that can occur with body piercing:

  • Infection of the mouth or lips from lip or tongue piercing may cause speech, chewing, or swallowing problems or swelling that can block the throat.
  • Infection of a nipple can scar the breast tissue and limit the ability to breastfeed later.
  • Splitting or tearing of the skin, which may cause the formation of scar tissue.
  • Problems with the type of jewelry used, including allergies to metal. Make sure you use the type of jewelry designed for your piercing site. Only use nonallergenic jewelry. Surgical stainless steel, gold, platinum, niobium, and titanium are the only types of jewelry you should use in a new piercing.
  • Chipping or cracking of the teeth, gum problems and difficulty chewing or swallowing from jewelry in the mouth or lips. Jewelry can also become loose and be swallowed.
  • Jewelry in the navel can get caught on clothing and linens. This constant irritation can delay healing. Navel piercings can take up to a year to heal completely.
  • Jewelry in the genital area may cause injury to you or your sex partner. It also can cause condom breakage, increasing the risk of pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted infections. Piercings in the penis can decrease a man’s ability to get or maintain an erection.
  • Damage to underlying blood vessels or nerves.
  • Scarring of the piercing site.

Since infection remains the most common and potentially serious side effect of piercing, it is extremely important that piercings are done at a reputable site with sterile equipment. Teens need to understand that they should never attempt self-piercing or allow a friend to pierce them. Additionally, teens considering a piercing need to be responsible enough to properly care for the piercing until it is fully healed. Depending on the body part, healing can take a few weeks to up to a year. Reputable piercing studios will provide information and solutions for caring for piercings.

Finally, teens responding to the Website Center for Young Women’s Health offers these tips to other teens regarding body piercing:

  1. You do NOT have to pierce your body to “belong”.
  2. You can ALWAYS change your mind or WAIT if you are not sure.
  3. If you do decide to have your body pierced, NEVER pierce your own body or let a friend do it because you can end up having very serious health problems.
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