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09.25.07

Tongue piercings can pose higher risk of infection

Posted in Piercing News at 7:36 am by admin

The life-and-death battle Lacey Filosa faced is just one example of the serious complications that sometimes can result from piercings. Two other examples were reported nationally in October 2006.

An infection that set in after an Indiana teen got her breasts pierced for her 18th birthday forced doctors to remove her left breast and take out lymph nodes and infected skin up to her collar bone, according to the Associated Press.

And the American Medical Association reported the case of an Italian teen who, after getting a tongue piercing, complained of pain so bad that she felt as if she were having electrical shocks to the face. The pain vanished two days after the metal stud was removed from her tongue.

Most of the time, piercings cause only minor irritation, not life-threatening complications, said Dr. Donna Meltzer, residency director of the Department of Family Medicine at the State University of New York Stony Brook.

She wrote a review on the medical problem piercings have caused, which appeared in American Family Physician, a medical journal, in 2005.

The potential for infections after tongue piercings is heightened for a number of reasons, she said.

These include: the high number of blood vessels in the tongue; that the tongue can’t be sterilized as effectively as skin; and that the mouth has many types of bacteria that aren’t typically found with skin infections.

Pain and swelling following a tongue piercing can be a sign of infection, she said.

And with mouth infections, “you get a fair amount of swelling you don’t see in some other body parts,” Meltzer said.

Infections in the mouth can spread quickly and deeply in the body so patients “worsen and they worsen fairly rapidly,” Meltzer said. “When people get infections of the tongue, they tend to get quite ill.”

Blood infections diagnosed after various types of piercings have damaged heart valves. “It can be quite devastating,” Meltzer said, often requiring open-heart surgery, a new heart valve and lifelong medical care.

Yet even as a fellow professional who understands all this, Dr. James Erhardt, Lacey’s Everett physician, said he still doesn’t know why her infection grew so fast and was so serious.

He remembers that when he first began treating her, her tongue didn’t look bad. “That caused us to think that was not the source to begin with.”

But one of the bacterial organisms in her mouth “which normally wouldn’t have been that big of deal just took off,” he said.

“There’s not a good way to predict why or when. We know it can happen.”

Once the germs made the jump from the mouth into the lymphatic system, it “just kept growing,” he said, passing into the teen’s neck and chest.

“It was a very virulent bacteria. … She absolutely almost lost her life.”

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