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DocSpot: Infected piercing

Dear Dr Margaret
I have had my belly button pierced for about 7 months now, but it still has pus coming out of it. I was wondering if it is infected or if there is something I can do.

A survey of college students in the USA found that 29% of the women had pierced belly buttons, but these were often problematic. They can take many months to heal. One reason is that belly button skin is constantly being bent and stretched when you move. Another reason is tight clothing around the waist, which may rub the area and will keep it warm and moist. Bacteria and fungi love warmth, moisture and damaged skin, so it is not surprising that belly button piercings often become infected.
It is very important that the jewellery for belly buttons is good quality. Cheap jewellery may not be well finished, so its surface has microscopic crevices that can harbour bacteria. Cheap jewellery may also be made from metals that can cause an allergic reaction, which may be followed by an infection. (Nickel was the main culprit, but this has now been banned by the European Union.)
It does seem likely that your piercing has become infected. There was some discussion about this problem in the British Medical Journal in 2000. A writer in the journal suggested that cleaning with chlorhexidine antiseptic solution and a 5-day course of flucloxacillin antibiotic would do the trick. Doctors then wrote in to say this was bad advice and that the piercing should be removed. I agree with this view, so my advice to you is to have the piercing removed. Apart from looking unsightly, there is always a danger that the infection should spread. The options are to remove it yourself (if you can do so without difficulty), or return to the place where you had it inserted and ask them to remove it, or to ask your doctor to remove it. After the piercing has been removed, the infection should heal.
For information, I consulted the following medical journals.
Khanna R, Kumar SS. Pathogen causing infection related to body piercing should be determined. British Medical Journal 2000;320(7243):1211.
Ferguson H. Body piercing. British Medical Journal 1999;319:1627–9.
Mayers LB, Judelson DA, Moriarty BW, Rundell KW. Prevalence of body art (body piercing and tattooing) in university undergraduates and incidence of medical complications. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2002;77:29–34.
Stirn A. Body piercing: medical consequences and psychological motivations. Lancet 2003;361:1205–15.

Last updated; Monday, September 7th 2020

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