This past August, Stephanie Edington, an 18-year-old from Crawfordsville, Indiana, decided to have her nipples pierced. What started out as ‘just a spontaneous thing I decided to do,’ as Stephanie told a local paper, almost killed her.
A few weeks after the piercing, Stephanie’s left breast became very tender and red. In October, she went to the ER in excruciating pain and was later admitted with an infection.
Stephanie’s condition worsened, and two days later, she was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis, a rapid bacteria growth that destroys tissue. Doctors had to remove one breast, lymph nodes, and skin up to her collarbone.
Though Stephanie’s case is extremely rare, piercing complications are not. According to a national survey by Northwestern University, 23 percent of those with body piercings experienced problems, including discomfort, swelling, and bleeding. Naval piercings, the most common source of complications, ‘are exposed to a lot of friction from clothing and take a long time to heal,’ says Donna I. Meltzer, MD, associate professor of family medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine.
Other potential problems include hepatitis B and C and tetanus. ‘I’m not for or against piercing if people make informed decisions,’ says Dr. Meltzer.
That means making sure the piercer wears fresh gloves and uses a new, sterilised needle and researching any conditions you have that might make you vulnerable to infection, such as diabetes, which was the case with Stephanie. Unfortunately, she learned about the dangers of piercing the hard way.