“Infected nipple piercing” kinda sounds like a bad punk band from the ’90s, right? Well, it’s also a pretty grim possibility if you don’t pay attention to piercing aftercare.
Keep reading for the deets on how to spot, treat, and even prevent a nipple piercing infection.
Mother nature makes it pretty easy to tell what an infected nipple piercing looks like.
Signs around the piercing site include:
- painful swelling
- skin that’s hot to the touch
- very red, purple, or darkened skin, depending on your skin tone
- blood or pus in a range of sexy colors — usually white, green, or yellow
- a nasty odor
General signs of infection:
But how *should* a new nipple piercing feel?
If this is your first nip piercing, you might not know what to expect. Fresh, uninfected piercings can be:
- sore or itchy
- a little redder or darker than usual, depending on your skin
- mildly weepy or crusty
Nipple piercings tend to take longer to heal fully than other areas. Don’t be surprised if it’s still a little bit sore after a couple of months.
Nipple piercings get exposed to germs in all sorts of ways:
A few potential long-term issues from nipple piercing infection:
- nerve damage
- formation of large, hard skin lumps (keloids)
- difficulty breastfeeding or chestfeeding
Left untreated, infections lead to sepsis, a potentially life threatening emergency. Seek medical attention ASAP if you’re experiencing fever, dizziness, nausea, or slurred speech along with localized signs of an infected piercing.
As we said, the signs of an infected piercing are pretty clear. You don’t need an official diagnosis to start treating early, mild signs of infection at home.
If you’re symptoms worsen or you develop a fever, nausea, or dizziness, get to a doctor. They can ID an infection with a physical exam.
If you spot the mild or early stages of infection, you might be able to handle it yourself. Here’s how.
Keep it clean
Use warm water and sterile saline solution to gently clean the piercing twice a day. If you need soap to clean off grime, opt for a super-gentle antibacterial wash.
Remember to use a fresh, clean towel or disposable paper towel to pat (don’t rub!) the piercing dry.
Try a compress
A warm compress — like a wet washcloth microwaved for 30 seconds, then held to the piercing site — can increase blood flow and help drain the infection. Cold compresses — bag of frozen peas wrapped in a clean towel, anyone? — can relieve swelling and pain.
Alternatively, soak the infected site in salt water. Add a teaspoon of pure sea salt to a shot glass of water and pop it onto your nip, using the shot glass to create a seal. Hold it there for 5–15 minutes, up to twice a day. Sterilization, baby!
Ditch over-the-counter ointments
If a doctor advises you to take a course of topical antibiotics, by all means, do so. But over-the-counter creams and ointments are thick enough to trap bacteria at the infection site, potentially worsening your infection.
Air it out
Wearing loose shirts or going braless keep your piercing from catching and tugging on things. That’ll ease irritation and give an infected piercing room to breathe.
Pro tip: In the spirit of letting your nipple breathe, avoid contact sports and anything that gets you super sweaty.
A bit of redness and soreness at the piercing site is one thing. But see a doctor ASAP if you experience these signs of severe or spreading infection:
That depends on the severity of the infection.
With proper care, most infected piercings clear up after a week or two. If you end up needing antibiotics, ask your doctor when you can expect to feel better.
If infection symptoms persist for three weeks or longer after beginning antibiotics, call your medical professional ASAP.
The best way to deal with an infected nipple piercing is to avoid the problem in the first place.
- Go to a reputable piercer vetted by the Association of Professional Piercers (APP).
- Check the tools and materials they use. (Sensitive to nickel? Say so!)
- Follow your piercer’s aftercare instructions.
Of course, if the deed is done, you can still follow proper aftercare protocol to prevent additional issues.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your piercing.
- Regularly rinse off crusties with warm water and pat dry with a clean towel or paper towel.
- Wear loose clothing to avoid snags (or a padded bra to keep things protected).
- Soak your nipple in half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in warm water twice a day.
How do you know if your nipple is infected from a piercing?
Infected piercings can feel swollen, itchy, and painful. The surrounding skin often grows red or dark, while the piercing itself might bleed or produce pus.
In more serious cases, nipple piercing infections can cause symptoms like fever, nausea, and extreme fatigue.
What’s the difference between piercing rejection and infection?
An infection occurs when bacteria gets into your piercing, while piercing rejection occurs when the body tries to push a piercing out.
Rejections happen most in piercings on flatter skin, like dermals and navels. Nipple piercings have a lower rate of rejection, but it can still happen.
How do you treat an infected nipple piercing?
Keep infected nipples clean and wear loose clothes to avoid irritating them. Treat with compresses or a sea salt soak if the infection persists. Only take medication that’s been approved for you by doctors.
Should you take out a nipple piercing if it’s infected?
No. Once you take out your piercing, your infection could close, trapping the bacteria in the skin. Leave the piercing in while you follow your prescribed course of treatment.
You can, of course, feel free to take it out once healed.
Should you get your nipple pierced if you’re breastfeeding?
Probably not. Babies’ mouths aren’t known for being the cleanest places. Having one regularly attached to a recent nipple piercing is asking for trouble.
There’s also the theoretical risk of jewelry falling out and into the infant’s mouth — recipe for disaster. Some professionals recommend removing nipple piercings for the whole duration of nursing.
When it comes to nipple piercing infections, prevention is better than cure. But if you do end up on the wrong side of bacteria baddies, it’s important you take steps to handle it ASAP.
Treatment for mild infection includes tip-top hygiene, salt water soaks, and letting the piercing air out. If you notice worsening signs of infection — red or dark lines from the piercing, skin that’s hot to the touch, fever, or nausea — see a doctor.