Signs of a skin infection after a tattoo or body piercing

A skin infection may be present if any of the following symptoms are present after having a tattoo or body piercing:

  • Increased pain, swelling, redness, heat, or tenderness around the tattoo or piercing site
  • Red streaks extending from the area
  • Pus coming from the wound
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes
  • Fever

Infection may start at the tattoo or piercing site on the surface of the skin. The normal clear or clear-yellow fluid that drains from a body piercing site may change to creamy yellow, brown, or red or look or smell like pus.

Infection may also occur deep inside the wound, with few noticeable signs at the site. Pain and swelling may develop. The skin over a tattoo or around a body piercing may heal while an infection is present in the wound, causing a more serious infection, such as an abscess or cellulitis. Infection can also spread to involve the bones (osteomyelitis), the joints (septic arthritis), or the whole body (sepsis).

Certain diseases may increase your risk for a serious infection. People with diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, or an impaired immune system may require medical treatment at the first signs of infection.

You can decrease the risk of infection if you follow the home treatment steps for cleaning and caring for a wound. Prompt treatment of an infection can prevent more serious problems.

Last Updated: September 4, 2008

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