While earlobe piercing has been popular for generations, people now increasingly opt for piercings in other areas, especially the tongue, lips, nose and navel (belly button). These areas of the body are susceptible to the accumulation of bacteria, and reports of infections caused by such piercings have been widely reported.
The industry has been regulated in the UK since 2006, and practitioners are required to register with local authorities and submit to regular health and safety inspections. They should have also spent at least 2 years as an apprentice to an experienced body piercer. Such regulation is however complicated by two external factors - there is no minimum age for most types of body piercing, unlike tattooing, and young people will generally choose the cheapest place to have their piercing done, rather than the most hygienic.
Given the sensitivity of the most popular areas for body piercing, an inexperienced or negligent piercer can cause severe damage. Where dirty needles or piercing guns are used, bacterial infections may result, which can ultimately lead to blood poisoning. More regularly, such infections will manifest themselves in cysts and keloids (raised scars) on the skin. Where antibiotics fail to treat such infections, the result can be some level of permanent deformity. Similar to tattooing, unhygienic body piercing practices may also transmit serious diseases of the blood, including hepatitis B or C, tetanus and even HIV.
Medical problems may result if a customer suffers an allergic reaction to the metals used in body ornaments. In the case of mouth piercings, this can cause respiratory, dental and speech problems. Nerves, blood vessels and arteries may also be damaged if a body piercer misdirects their needle or piercing gun by even a fraction of an inch. Customers have a legal right to expect a competent service from a body piercing professional, and where a body piercing salon has negligently failed in its duty of care, it may subsequently be sued for any resulting injuries.
It is estimated that 50% of women aged 16-24 have piercings in parts of the body other than the earlobe, a percentage that is set to rise as body piercing services become more and more accessible. There are certain dangers inherent in body piercing, and the tongue is a particularly sensitive area on which to perform it. Though most body piercing practitioners maintain high standards of cleanliness and client aftercare, the risk of bacteria causing a tongue piercing infection is impossible to eliminate entirely.
Those offering professional body piercing services have a duty of care to clients to provide a safe premises, equipment and working practices. They must also register with local authorities and submit to regular health and safety inspections. It is especially important that all piercing instruments are sterilized, and that a premises is properly ventilated to allow air to circulate.
Tongue piercing infections may cause swelling in the mouth, and related speech, dental and breathing problems. There is also the possibility of infected blood cells transmitting serious diseases such as Hepatitis B or C. More regularly an infected piercing will result in permanent raised (keloid) scarring on the tongue.
Swelling around the affected area is normal for a few weeks following a tongue piercing. The site of the piercing may also appear red and raw for a time. Symptoms indicating an infection include a high temperature, nausea and fever. There may also be swelling on the tongue, a sign that the wound is failing to heal due to infection.
Other signs of tongue piercing infections include bad breath, pain in the affected area, and in serious cases patches of discolouration on the tongue. It is essential that people with a new tongue piercing keep the surrounding area clean, and regularly inspect the healing process. It is advisable to seek medical attention if the area of the tongue that is pierced has not healed fully within 4 weeks. Where tongue piercing infections are the result of poor hygiene, the use of unsterilized equipment or negligent staff, tongue piercing customers may seek compensation for injury and associated losses.
We have recently dealt with cases in which body and tongue piercing procedures have gone disastrously wrong for clients. In the resulting compensation claims we have recovered damages for pain and suffering, as well as medical and travel expenses and loss of earnings for time off work. Compensation awards for pain and suffering alone may be in excess of £3,000.