Table of contents for Tattoo health issues
Most reactions to new tattoos are fairly mild, and temporary. Swelling, scabbing, weeping ink, peeling skin and itching are all normal in the aftermath of getting inked. Take common-sense precautions and all will be well.
However, there are more serious things that can happen and it is important to be aware and be prepared. Going to a reputable, clean tattoo parlor is just the first step in avoiding serious problems. The serious problems I’m going to talk about next are uncommon. But that doesn’t mean you can dismiss the possibility of it happening to you.
My skin ‘asplode?
If you notice sudden, severe swelling, pain in your joints, the appearance of hives anywhere on your body, or shortness of breath, get yourself to an emergency room, pronto. This is an indication of a severe allergic reaction and it can be life-threatening in very short order. You need medical treatment–home remedies will not do. Your doctor can decide the best course of action. Unfortunately, when the allergen is injected into the skin, treatment is more complicated than it would be if inhaled or simply came in contact with your skin and produced a reaction.
Allergic reactions can come without warning, even if you’ve been tattooed before with absolutely no problems. Our bodies get sensitized to things over time, especially with all the chemicals and crap in the environment worldwide these days. The trauma of a new open wound filled with ink may be just the last straw as far as your body’s immune system is concerned. You may be lucky and it may be a reaction to whatever ointment or antiseptic your skin was treated with–your doctor can help you figure that out.
And, of course, once you’ve gotten treatment, if the cause of the reaction is the tattoo ink, you need to have a clear understanding that you cannot risk getting tattooed again.
Weeping, oozing and more
Even if you’ve taken proper precautions, your new tattoo can still get infected. It’s one of a long list of reasons why you should say no to plastic wrap, right from the get-go. The makers of plastic wrap don’t sterilize their product, because it’s not intended to be slapped on open wounds. The plastic wrap, besides being contaminated with who-knows-what, can seal in environmental contaminants as well, long enough for them to take hold in your system and start an infection. If the artist whips out the plastic wrap, insist on having a sterile bandage instead.
It’s normal for a new tattoo to ooze and weep color for a while, sometimes for several days, as the healing process begins. But if the skin around the tattoo remains red, swollen, and hot, and if you see any evidence of blisters or pus, it’s time to seek medical advice. Catch an infection early and it can be cleared up early. If you piddle around hoping it will go away on its own, you may end up with a crater where your ink was supposed to be. Do not pick at the scabs, or pop blisters or try to squeeze out pus. You’ll just make things infinitely worse. You can try applying hot compresses (clean cloth dipped in boiled water and allowed to cool to a temperataure you can stand). Some people suggest trying a topical antibiotic, but that may or may not make a difference, since it might not be able to penetrate to where the infection is.
In any case, if there is evidence of infection, don’t try home remedies for more than a day or so at the most. You don’t want to risk ending up with damaged skin and lingering, serious problems. Should you see red streaks coming from the tattoo, or if your lymph nodes are swollen, or if you have a fever, seek medical treatment as fast as you can.
The life you save…
Many people are reluctant to go see a doctor these days, because let’s face it, medical care is expensive. But if you are having a serious problem after getting a tattoo, it is important to get medical attention as fast as you can. The cost of a visit to the ER is going to be a lot less than the cost of long-term hospitalization… or of your funeral.
These problems (allergic reaction and infection) are uncommon, especially if you’ve gone to a reputable artist and have taken proper care of your skin afterwards–but they do happen. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.
In the next post, I will take up the most serious (and, fortunately, the most uncommon) health problems that multicolored people might face.
photo credit: macwagen