It's not unusual for people with nose piercings to experience an infection during the healing process. In fact, infections can occur in up to 30 percent of body piercing sites. Although most are minor and localized to the piercing area, infrequently these infections become severe and spread throughout the body. The infection may be caused by exposure to bacteria or viruses during the piercing process, from unsterilized needles or an unclean environment, or the infection can occur during the healing process, which may take up to 4 months. Since staphylococcal organisms are common in the nose, the infection risk is related to this bacteria being in ongoing contact with the piercing site. Prompt treatment of an infection can speed healing and prevent its spread, so be sure to follow aftercare instructions from your piercing professional, and see a doctor if you have any signs of infection.
The first step is to determine if you need to see a doctor. If you have any severe health problems, such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes, or if your immune system is suppressed, see a doctor even if you have a minor infection. If you have severe redness, swelling, pain, red streaks coming from the piercing site, or foul smelling or excessive discharge, or if you have any signs of severe infection such as fever, chills, disorientation, nausea or vomiting, see a doctor right away.
Unless your doctor recommends removal, keep your jewelry in your nose. Piercing is unique in that the wound is intentional, and optimal healing takes place when the jewelry stays in place. In addition, removing the nose jewelry when you have an infection can cause an abscess, or a pocket of pus in the area.
Before cleaning and rinsing the site, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Dry using a clean paper towel rather than a cloth towel, to avoid contaminating your hands with more germs. If you prefer, wear disposable gloves.
Whether or not you have an infection, clean your piercing site twice daily with mild soap and water. Gently move the jewelry back and forth to allow the soapy water to work around the area. Rinse the area with clean water, again gently moving the jewelry so the soap gets washed away. Pat dry.
Do not use harsh substances like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or any over-the-counter ointments or creams because they can interfere with the skin healing around the piercing.
At least twice daily, soak the area in warm saline water. Place a teaspoon of sea salt in a glass or cup, and fill with warm water. Stir to dissolve. Soak a clean cotton ball in the salt water and squeeze out most of the excess. Press this gently against the infected area. Hold the cotton ball against your nose until it cools off and then discard. Soak, squeeze and apply another cotton ball, continuing this process for at least 5 minutes.
If your infection is minor, but doesn't clear up after a week, see your doctor. If your infection worsens, see a doctor right away. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream or gel, or if needed, oral antibiotics to treat the infection.
Things You'll Need
Antimicrobial or germicidal soap
Clean cotton balls
Change your pillow case every night so that you have a clean surface to sleep on while your infection heals.
Body piercings should only be completed by a piercing professional. Be sure to choose only experienced piercers who follow infection control procedures. Follow aftercare guidelines closely to minimize the risk of infection.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- Association of Professional Piercers: Body Piercing Troubleshooting For You and Your Healthcare Professional
- Modern Medicine Network: Caring for the Patient With Piercings
- JAMA: Body Piercing
- American Family Physician: Complications of Body Piercing
- American Journal of Clinical Dermatology: Body Piercing
- Wounds International: Common complications involved in body piercing
- Association of Professional Piercers: Suggested Aftercare Guidelines for Body Piercings