Body piercings need proper care for them to heal successfully. If the piercer does not adhere to appropriate hygiene standards when making the piercing, you can easily end up with an infection. A nipple piercing infection can easily turn nasty with signs such as pus oozing from it, pain, and bad odor.
To reduce the risk of infection, you must practice proper aftercare. By this, we mean cleaning it, treating, and even wearing the right kind of jewelry to prevent rejection. The breast area has a heavy network of ducts and other sensitive tissues that make it susceptible to infections and other complications. The very important part of taking care of a nipple piercing is being able to know if it is getting an infection.
How do I know my piercing is infected?
It is normal to experience some level of pain immediately after the procedure. However, the pain should reduce after a couple of days. If it lasts longer than a few days, it is likely to develop a complication or infection. This is where you need to take the right mitigation measures to help the infection heal and go away.
It is normal to experience some kind of inflammation and soreness. The nipple will be red and painful to touch up to a few hours after the piercing procedure. Although a little itching may also be experienced, it should not be severe or too much. Just avoid scratching or touching it to avoid an infection.
However, if there is persistent pain, soreness, and inflammation, that is how you know your nipple piercing is getting infected. There may be more signs to look out for.
Signs of a nipple piercing infection
Yes, nipple piercings are risky because of the deep breast tissue as well as a network of ducts. The chances of getting infected are high. The pain level is also high because, well, we are talking about breasts and nipples here. So, the sure symptoms your piercing is irritated and infected.
Redness is normal, but it should only occur a few hours to a few days after the piercing. It is a natural reaction to the interruption of your normal body tissue and blood vessels. However, irritation that lasts more than one and a half weeks is a sign that the piercing could be developing an infection.
Consider the piercing as a wound that is healing. The natural inflammatory process that helps speed up healing results in redness. It should, however, last 5 to 7 days. If it lasts long and continues to worsen, that could be a sign of infection on the wound around your breast.
It is quite normal to have a little fluid draining from a fresh piercing. However, it should be clear or slightly yellow. It is also reasonable to see a slightly blood-tinged fluid in the first 48 hours. According to Joshua Zuckerman MD, FACS, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Manhattan who specializes in breast reconstruction, “The piercing creates a small wound that, like all wounds, will produce a small amount of drainage in the initial phase of healing.” 
Malodorous drainage appears as white or green pus. It can be cloudy and produces a foul odor. If the normal drainage turns into characteristically infected pus, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. If it is normal and you are less likely to be having an infected nipple piercing, use absorbent dressings used for wound care such as hydrocolloids to reduce the pus discomfort.
Bump on nipple
Some sort of ‘bumps’ form on or near infected piercings. They are common on earlobes, cartilage, and nose piercings. Depending on the cause, the bumps can be follicular cysts, abscesses, or keloids. If you can determine the particular cause and type of bump you have on your nipple, it will be easier to get rid of it and heal the nipple piercing infection.
For most infections on the nipple, the common symptom is an abscess. It may resemble a subareolar breast abscess and presents as a swollen bump on the nipple area filled with pus (dead white blood cells.) The AARP website points out that nipple bumps and abscesses are commonly caused by piercings, smoking, and diabetes. When present, it is a sure sign that there is a local infection that needs to be treated or checked by a doctor.
Swelling is part of the normal healing process of a wound. It is the initial stage of inflammation and white blood cell activity. Swelling should be continually decreasing.
Redness, the hotness (warmth), and swelling that lasts for more than 3 days and keeps getting worse is a symptom of infection on the nipple piercing. The main symptoms of inflammation to look for are heat, redness, swelling, and pain.
Pain and fever
Fever, pain, head, and body aches are general signs of wound infection. A low-grade fever that accompanies the other signs and symptoms discussed above will also help you know that you have an infection.
For this, your doctor may give you a painkiller and treat the wound with an antibiotic to fight the infection. A nipple piercing pain can really be excruciating if the infection is severe and has spread through your blood. Make sure you see a doctor early enough before it turns into a systemic infection.
Usually, the reason for the infection starts with the piercer. If the procedure was not carried out properly, you might develop a problem before the wound heals completely. Keep in mind that this kind of piercing can take up to 1 year to heal. Here are the possible causes of infection.
- Unhygienic piercing tools. To prevent such problems, sterilized tools must be used.
- Frequently touching the nipple after the procedure. This usually introduces bacteria to the area.
- Wearing tight clothes that irritate the location, causing inflammation.
- Poor quality jewelry. Some materials such as nickel are known to irritate skin tissue and increase the risk of infection.
- Some soaps can also cause an infection.
To prevent infections, ensure that your piercer uses clean, sterilized equipment to perform the procedure. If you need to clean the area, wash your hands clean before touching the area to prevent transferring germs to the location.
Risk factors you should consider
It is important to consider that when you get body piercings, you are exposing yourself to a certain degree of risk. Common risk factors that may come with a nipple piercing infection include the following:
- Nerve damage
- Permanent scars
- Keloid bumps
- Breastfeeding problems
- Bleeding that may occur intermittently
- Tearing of breast tissue
Self-diagnosis is crucial because it will help heal the pierced nipple faster. The symptoms above should help you know if you have an infection. If you are not sure if the symptoms are a serious sign or just the healing process, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis. Taking too long will allow the disease to spread further and increase the risk of complications.
How to clean an infected nipple piercing
To prevent infections, you need to ensure the piercing is clean all the time. This does not mean you overdo the hygiene procedures. Here’s how to clean it:
- Wash your hands clean.
- Using a clean washcloth, gently clean the area with plain lukewarm water.
- Pat it gently to dry.
If you are going to use any kind of soap, ensure that it is meant for sensitive skin to avoid irritation. Contrary to the advice of some people, do not use ointments, detergents, harsh soaps, cleansers, and hydrogen peroxide to clean the area. These will cause further irritation and inflammation.
As it heals, the wound may go through several stages. Some stages may present discomfort such as itchiness and even bad smell. You mustn’t remove the nipple piercing jewelry. Removing it will create a hole that can accumulate fluids, pus cells, and bacteria.
- Always ensure that your piercing is clean and dry.
- Do not wear irritating clothes.
Bumps on nipples can easily be prevented if you try the following tips:
- Piercing with jewelry that is not too heavy to tear tissue. Avoid jewelry that is too thick or larger than required in diameter.
- Avoid removing the jewelry too soon before the piercing heals completely.
- Try not to play with, stretch, or pick the piercing even if a scab forms on it.
- Be more careful with the aftercare routine of second nipple piercings. They are the most likely to get infected.
Treatment and healing
Before and during the infection, you should avoid squeezing out any pus. This will not get rid of the infection. We recommend that you see a doctor for proper treatment that will help the infection heal faster.
Your doctor will prescribe the right antibiotic to get rid of the bacterial infection on the nipple piercing. Some medications may be in the form of tablets, others topical, and in some circumstances, you may get an injection. The latter is only necessary if you have a more advanced systemic bacterial infection.
Can I use OTC topical antibiotics?
Avoid applying over-the-counter antibiotic ointments. They can form a film that traps bacteria inside the pierced area. These will only worsen your infection. If you are using a topical treatment, apply only one prescribed by your doctor.
For local infections that are not very serious or advanced, you can try a few home remedies that will help you relieve the pain and stop the infection from spreading.
Apply a warm compress: Apply a warm compress gently to the breast area. This will improve drainage, increase the flow of blood. Proper supply of nutrients and removal of waste products will help the infection heal faster.
Soak in sea salt: Make a solution of warm water and sea salt. Soak your nipple in this saline solution for 3 to 5 minutes. Repeat this home treatment two times a day to heal the wound faster.
The most important tip on preventing infections on piercings is following the aftercare instructions given by the piercing professional. Also, be patient with the wound to allow it enough time to heal. Wearing loose clothing and avoiding tight bras can help it heal faster.