If you find a bump on your nipple piercing, this may be a sign that you have an abscess. A study published in the July 2010 edition of the "Journal of the American College of Surgeons" indicates that nipple piercing is one factor that puts you at risk for recurrent breast abscesses. These painful bumps can occur years after you first have your nipples pierced.
Body piercing may be en vogue, but women who have their nipples pierced put themselves at a higher risk for subareolar abscesses–tender, inflamed bumps that form under the areola of the nipple. According to an August 2010 report in "The New York Times," these painful, pus-filled lesions can form anywhere from a month to seven years after you get your nipple pierced. In some instances, these abscesses recur and require surgical management.
The "Journal of the American College of Surgeons" study conducted by the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine looked at 68 women with breast abscesses. According to the "New York Times" article, nipple piercing emerged as a risk factor for subareolar abscesses, with a 10- to 20-fold increase in abscesses noted from January 2004 to November 2009. The study concludes that recurrent abscesses "are associated with smoking, surgical management and increased age."
Recurrent subareolar abscesses in the breast aren't common, concludes an October 2006 article in the "American Journal of Surgery" submitted by the Mayo Clinic Department of Surgery, but when they do, they are difficult to manage medically. In most cases, abscesses are treated with antibiotics or a surgical procedure that drains the abscess. However, because the problem that causes abscesses is never resolved, multiple surgical procedures are often necessary. The article concludes that multiple attempts at surgical management can "lead to scarring, distortion of the breast or nipple and lead to multiple scars, nipple and breast distortion ... or even to mastectomy."
Other Risk Factors
Although nipple piercing is one factor associated with breast abscesses, the University of Iowa study found that smoking posed a more significant concern. Researchers also determined that obesity and diabetes were other risk factors associated with breast abscesses.
What to Do
If you suspect you may have an abscess around your piercing site, don't self-treat. The Association of Professional Piercers states that you should see your treating physician if suspicious bumps and lumps on your nipple piercing last for a week or seem to be getting worse. Also see your doctor if the piercing site is red, swollen and painful or if you notice foul-smelling discharge -- pus -- that's thick and green, yellow or gray.