Worried You May Have an Infected Tongue Piercing? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment | Painful Pleasures Community

Worried You May Have an Infected Tongue Piercing? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Learn what to do if you think you have a tongue piercing infection. Plus, take steps to make sure you never get a tongue piercing infection.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: October 27, 2022

Infections happen, but we’ve got you covered. Learn what to do if you think you have a tongue piercing infection. Plus, take the right steps to prevent infection from negatively impacting your new tongue piercing. In this blog, we also cover common issues often mistaken for an infection and proper tongue piercing aftercare.

How tongue infections develop

Infections develop when pathogenic bacteria colonize the piercing hole or fistula. Because our mouths are full of bacteria, infections are more common with tongue piercings than with other types of piercings. Bacteria can be introduced to the piercing site by drinking, eating, kissing, touching your tongue ring, or having oral sex. Even apart from these activities, the bacteria that already colonize your mouth can make their way into the piercing and cause an infection. But don’t worry – remember that with proper aftercare, good dental hygiene, and a reputable piercer, infections from tongue piercings are still rare.

Signs of an infected tongue piercing

Smiling client with tongue piercing and red-jeweled accessory

What does an infected tongue piercing look like? Though tongue piercing infections can present differently, these are typically the signs of an infected tongue piercing:

  • green or yellow-ish pus
  • redness or swelling that extends well beyond the piercing site
  • red streaks that extend from the piercing site
  • excessive bleeding and pain (Not sure how much pain is normal for a tongue piercing? Check out this article to learn how much pain you can expect: How Much Do Tongue Piercings Hurt?)
  • fever or chills

When you have a true tongue piercing infection, it’s important to act quickly and reach out to your piercer or doctor. However, many people mistake normal signs of healing for an infection. Piercing bumps and lymph fluid are both completely normal and harmless parts of healing that are often mistaken for signs of infection.

Lymph versus pus

The normal discharge of lymph fluid from a healing tongue piercing is not a sign of infection. As your body heals the fistula, a clear-ish or whitish discharge may appear around the top or bottom of your piercing. Don’t panic – that’s just lymph. It’s your body’s way of delivering extra white blood cells to the wound, which speeds healing and prevents infection.

In any external piercing, the lymph would dry to a whitish crust that you can then gently wipe or wash away. In the mouth, lymph doesn’t dry, and it can easily be mistaken for pus by someone unfamiliar with tongue piercings’ healing process. 

Tongue piercing infection bump 

With new piercings, it’s normal to have mild inflammation in the form of a bump around the piercing site. While these “piercing bumps” are most common with cartilage piercings in the nose or ear, they can occur with any piercing. Piercing bumps will often subside on their own as healing progresses. Consequently, they’re not necessarily a sign of infection. 

In rarer cases, bumps can be due to a true infection. In these cases, the bump will often be quite painful, swollen, red, or warm. Of course, the tongue is already warm and red as it is, and some swelling and pain are normal after piercing. If you’re unsure whether your symptoms are signs of an infection, call your piercer and have them take a look. An experienced piercer can distinguish between a piercing that’s healing normally and one that is showing signs of infection. If your bump is leaking pus and is accompanied by fever, nausea, or chills, it’s almost certainly infected, and you can seek care from your doctor or dentist immediately. 

Finally, small bumps can also be due to excess scar tissue. In this case, they aren’t a cause for concern as long as they aren’t bothersome or accompanied by other symptoms like swelling, pain, bleeding, or pus. 

Could I be allergic to my tongue ring?

If your tongue piercing is irritated but is not showing signs of infection, you may just be mildly allergic to your jewelry. Solid titanium tongue rings are your best bet if you’re having an allergic reaction to the metal. That’s because titanium is the most inert metal and least likely to cause a reaction. Many reputable piercers opt for titanium rings to begin with. Ask your piercer about their body jewelry to be sure.

If you’re still within the first 7–10 days after your piercing, you may also just need to give it more time to heal. However, if you decide you want to try a titanium tongue ring, get your piercer to help you change your jewelry. Make sure they give you a solid titanium tongue ring rather than a coated one, preferably one that’s internally threaded, so your healing fistula doesn’t get scraped when the new jewelry passes through your tongue.

Is my barbell too short? 

If your tongue is excessively swollen and your barbell is pressing in or “swallowing” either or both barbell balls, your tongue ring is too short. You need to see your piercer ASAP to have it swapped out for a longer one. That’s because prolonged pressure on a piercing can lead to tissue death (necrosis), which can lead to infection.

What can I do to prevent an infected tongue ring?

Bottle of Oral Rinse for treating tongue piercings

Proper aftercare and oral hygiene are the best defenses against tongue ring infections. These are a few of the basics you’ll want to follow:

  • Rinse your mouth 3–6 times per day with a sea salt solution like Recovery Saline Solution
  • Eat soft foods during the first week or so, when your tongue is most sensitive (e.g., applesauce, pudding, yogurt, mashed potatoes, mashed ripe bananas, Jell-O, ice cream, rice, oatmeal, etc.)
  • Don’t mess with your jewelry
  • Wear gloves or wash your hands before touching your jewelry
  • Avoid others’ bodily fluids
  • Keep up with gentle brushing and flossing
  • Generally take care of yourself (e.g., practicing good hygiene, getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of water, etc.)

For a tried-and-true full aftercare regimen, check out our Ultimate Guide to Tongue Piercings

How to treat your infection

Bottle fo Recovery Dead Sea Salt with a blue backdrop

If you still suspect that you have an infection, keep your jewelry in and continue your aftercare routine. Saltwater rinses are extremely important during this time. Also, contact your piercer if you aren’t sure whether your symptoms are due to the normal healing process or infection. They can help you distinguish between the two and give you additional tips.

Contact your doctor or dentist immediately if you notice:

  • Developing fever
  • Foul-smelling pus
  • Red streaks around the piercing site

Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics that will clear up most infections quickly. Unless there is a medical need to remove the jewelry (such as piercing rejection), it’s best to keep your tongue ring in until the infection is completely healed. Otherwise, the fistula could close around the infection, trapping it inside and leading to an abscess. 

Always use high-quality jewelry

Another step you can take to help prevent infection? Only use high-quality, sterilized tongue rings. You’ll typically get your first barbell at your piercer’s shop; while you’re there, ask them about safe jewelry materials. You can also ask if their jewelry is sterilized.

We recommend solid titanium tongue rings that are internally threaded, so they won’t cause allergic reactions or additional irritation. You can also opt to have your jewelry sterilized in an autoclave, ensuring that it’s completely sterile when you open the package. And of course, as the largest online piercing supplier, we’re sure to have a tongue ring in the style and gauge you want! Shop our full collection of tongue rings here!

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