Body piercing, a common practice among men and women folks but commoner among the latter, is a practice that backdates to the early days of humankind. Its essence broadens to different aspects of life depending on sociocultural and religious backgrounds of a people. In many societies, ear piercing is a must-do for every girl child (historically, as a means of identification and beautification) but, with the advent of contemporary lifestyles, the practice has evolved to involve piercing of the nose, navel, genitals, lips, the tongue, etcetera especially among teenagers and young adults.
What might likely be the effects of these on your health?
Body piercing in simple terms involves the use of foreign material (needle or sharp metal) to pierce the body. In The Gambia and most other countries, it is not carried out medically. As such, many complications ensue notably:
Infection at the pierced site: The skin serves as a protective barrier from environmental hazards and microbes so when it is broken, this provides a gateway for harmful bacteria to get access to the body. The use of unsterilized metals and needles compounds to greater risk. Navel piercing bears more risk in this regard due to its shape.
Allergic reactions: The body responds to things that are not a part of or compatible with it. Some jewelry contains a substance called nickel, a chemical element meant to prevent scratching and bending of jewelry. When it comes in contact with the skin, it produces an itchy skin rash known as dermatitis.
Bloodstream infections: There is a great deal of risk of transmission with infections that are transmitted through parenteral means (by blood) such as Hepatitis B and C, Tetanus or HIV due to interpersonal contact with non-sterile materials used during the practice.
Dental trauma: Tooth chipping (or fracture) is the most common dental problem related to tongue piercing. Lip or tongue jewelry can also cause gum problems and damage to the enamel; the jewelry can also become loose and be swallowed. Researchers have also found that, in some cases, the jaw bone may be affected requiring oral surgery to preserve the teeth. Infection of the mouth or lips may cause speech, chewing, or swallowing problems or swelling that can block the throat.
Keloid formation: This is an overgrowth of fibrous tissue or scars that can occur in some people after even minor trauma to the skin. It can be tender and itchy sometimes. Those with chronic medical conditions or those who take daily medication (e.g., those with diabetes mellitus or taking corticosteroids) may be at a greater risk.
Other piercing-related problems: Usually, after piercing, jewelry is worn which also pose some threat to the body. Jewelry should be of the right size for the body part being pierced. If it is too big, it could lead to large scars or tissue damage. If it is too small, it could cut the skin or break off. Prolonged wearing of heavy jewelry also may result to an elongated or deformed earlobe. Jewelry in the genital area may cause injury and can cause a condom to break or a diaphragm to dislodge increasing the risk of pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted infections.
Generally, the health problems that come along with body piercing can be prevented medically; it can be safely practiced under the supervision of a health care professional. One should avoid self-piercing or unprofessional use of non-sterile equipment. With these, body piercing can be done with lesser risk.