Infected Belly Button Piercings: Symptoms & Treatment

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 29, 2018
    Last Updated: October 29, 2020

Belly button piercing infections are unfortunately an unwanted side effect for some people, so you’re smart to be on the lookout for any signs that an infection is setting in.

Sometimes, a belly button piercing that is healing without any complications can still look pretty bad, especially in the first few days and weeks, so don’t begin to worry too soon. This is why it’s all the more important to be vigilant as your piercing continues to heal.

So, how do you know when something is going wrong?


Signs & Symptoms

It can be hard to know when your piercing is starting to get an infection, but knowing what’s normal and what isn’t can help you decide when to give your doctor a call.

So how do you know when an infection is a possibility? There are several ways you can spot things that aren’t normal and could mean an infection is present.

Increased Pain

Your level of soreness and pain can vary from day to day, depending upon your activity level and how tight your clothes are.

So while you should expect some pain, it shouldn’t be getting dramatically worse. If you notice a sharp increase in pain and you haven’t changed your routine or physical activity, you should pay attention to other signs of infection. Staying on the lookout for other signs of trouble will help you nip any infections in the bud.

Discharge

You’ll likely have some small discharge from your piercing, even when it isn’t infected. Although, if you notice more discharge in the days following the piercing, pay attention to the color and how it smells.

If it smells bad and it’s yellowish instead of clear, this may be a sign of infection. Call your doctor at this point so you can begin to treat it immediately.

Cyst

If you see a fluid-filled cyst at the piercing site, that’s a clear sign you may have an infection. The drainage might be clear in the beginning, but as the infection starts to gain traction, the color can change.

Warmth and Redness

You’re going to have redness following your piercing. However, if it starts to get worse and the skin also feels hot to the touch, it could mean you have a problem.

If you notice any red streaks in the skin near the piercing site, this is definitely a sign of infection. Don’t put off calling the doctor at this point.

Fever

If you have signs of infection at the site and you also come down with a fever, you need to book an appointment as soon as possible. If your doctor is already booked up for the day, you should go to a walk-in clinic.

A fever can mean that the infection has spread beyond the piercing site. It’s more important than ever to seek prompt medical attention.

Main Causes

Unsterilized Equipment

Not all piercers put a high emphasis on using sterile equipment. Some piercers are way more concerned about getting your money than they are about what happens to you when their job is done.

Look for a good piercer who has a great reputation. Listen to your gut feeling when talking to a piercer and if you see anything that seems a bit sketchy, walk out of there and look for another piercer. That will give you a much better chance of staying infection-free.

Using a more experienced professional may mean a more expensive belly button piercing, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Piercing Methods

Needles are always better than guns.

There are multiple reasons why you should stay away from piercing guns on your belly button area. They cause more damage to surrounding tissue than hollow needles do. This means a more painful experience and a potentially longer recovery time.

If a piercing gun isn’t a single-use one, then you also run the risk of introducing tissue and blood into your belly button area from the last person it was used on. Even if your piercer cleans the gun between uses, they might still be cleaning and sterilizing it inadequately. It’s not worth the chance.

Your piercer should be using a new hollow needle and you shouldn’t accept any other method. Before they begin the piercing, they should wash their hands and put on new disposable gloves.

Touching

You can accidentally introduce a lot of germs into your piercing site just by touching and fiddling with your piercing.

Before you touch your new piercing, you need to make sure you’ve thoroughly washed your hands with soap and water. When you’re not cleaning your piercing, try not to touch the area more than you have to.

Poor Aftercare

Although it may be a pain in the butt for the first couple of weeks after a piercing, committing time every day to keeping the area clean is a necessity.

A quick video guide to cleaning a new piercing:

If you don’t keep up with the sea salt water rinses and washing your hands, you might pay the price by developing an infection. It will only take a few minutes at a time, but it might mean the difference between sailing through your healing period, or ending up with an infection.

The best aftercare product I’ve personally used is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan-friendly, but it’s also completely alcohol and additive-free. The solution works well on all skin types including sensitive skin, and it comes in a generously-sized mist-spraying bottle for easy application. When using it from the very start of the healing process, the spray helps to decrease healing times and aims to eliminate any lingering pain or soreness.

Picking Off Scabs

You may find that your piercing site starts forming scabs, and it seems like some people just can’t resist peeling them off. Nevertheless, if a scab is there, it means your body is trying to properly heal a wound. Leave it in place and let it fall off naturally.

Be aware that getting a double belly button piercing will mean more scabbing. Keep this in mind as it will mean there will be a slightly higher chance of getting a piece of scab ripped off.

Finally, a rejected belly button piercing can also sometimes cause scabbing around the area.

Infected Belly Button Piercing
A crusty, infected piercing.

How To Treat An Infected Belly Button Piercing

Although the first thing you might want to do when you’ve developed an infection in your belly button piercing is to take out the jewelry, you shouldn’t do that.

That jewelry is allowing the hole to stay open, and as long as the hole stays open, the infection can drain out instead of staying inside your body. So make sure no matter how much you might want to take out your jewelry, that you leave your piercing in.

Depending upon the severity of your infection and how far that infection has spread, you will likely be instructed to do several things to help clear the infection.

If the infection appears to be mild and is in the early stages, you won’t have a fever and you won’t notice any red streaking from the wound.

If it’s mild and you feel comfortable doing so, you can try to treat it for a day or two at home before calling the doctor.

Before you touch your belly button piercing in any way, make sure to always wash your hands. You don’t want to introduce any new bacteria while you’re trying to fight the existing infection.

Every day, several times a day if you can afford the time, put a wet washcloth dipped in warm water on the infection. That moist heat will help the discharge drain out. Anything that gets the infection drained out of the body will promote healing.

In the meantime, keep doing the sea salt soaks that were a part of your aftercare instructions.

If the infection seems to be worse in a day or so, call the doctor. You’ll probably also be given an antibiotic ointment to put on your skin several times a day.

If your infection appears to be raging by the time you’ve finally figured out what the problem is, you may see red streaking from the piercing site, and you may have a fever and chills. These are all signs of a serious infection and you must aim to seek medical attention immediately. You’ll probably be given antibiotics to prevent worsening complications.

Infection or stretch mark? Sometimes, other issues can be mistaken as an infection, and vice-versa.

Prevention

Making sure you use high-quality jewelry is one of the best ways to prevent future infections. Low-quality jewelry is often made of cheap materials. Cheap metals, besides causing allergic reactions, can easily break.

When jewelry breaks while you’re wearing it, you can get scratched or punctured. That little injury will cause some pain and it gives you a greater risk of getting an infection than healthy skin does.

When you’re on a tight budget, it can be tempting to trade belly bling with your friend for the night so you can freshen up your look. However, wearing someone else’s belly button jewelry is a really bad idea and it can lead to infection.

Even if you try to properly clean or sanitize your friend’s jewelry, it still carries a lot of risk. It’s hard to fully sanitize the jewelry and a simple dousing with alcohol won’t do it. Used jewelry will have a lot of hard-to-see scratches that will make it tricky to clean.

While no one can stop you from wearing used jewelry, you need to be aware that you could be spending a lot more in the long run on treatment for your new infection.

Summary

While dealing with the infection can be a major downer, it’s important to keep in mind that if you follow the instruction provided, your infection will get better, and healing times will improve.

In the future, you’ll be better prepared. You’ll know exactly what you have to do to avoid getting a belly button piercing infection, and before long, your beautiful navel will be healed up and ready to show off.