It is 15:00 on a sunday in a busy north Glasgow casualty department (the British name for emergency room, these days called A+E). All ten cubicles are occupied with patients, sporting more or less severe injuries, vomiting on the floors after an alcohol fuelled weekend, being obnoxious, crying, or just being in pain. 6 hours waiting time for minor problems is currently projected.
In cubicle eight somebody is dying.

I enter cubicle number six, where a 17 year old girl/boy tearfully waits, complaining about an acutely infected navel/tongue/brow/nipple/lip/clit or foreskin piercing. The pierced dermis is erythematous, with green-yellowish pus glistening next to to the metal of the stud/earring, smelling anaerobic. I explain that the piercing needs to be removed and antibiotics have to be given, otherwise the infection will spread and make the patient dangerously ill.

"..but if I don't take it out it won't heal"
"..but the stud will have to come out, otherwise it will flare up again"
"sigh. why did you come here in the first place if you don't want it removed"
"ok, if you would just let me quickly..."

and so forth.

Painmedication will be given, nurses and doctors time is wasted, the patient will abscond, the queue of seriously ill people is getting longer. Scenes like this happen in every A+E department in the western world dozens of times. Every day. Just because being at university without a piece of metal in your cutis isn't cool.

According to some data, about 51% of undergraduates in the US have some form of piercing, with a complication rate of ca 20%. The list of complications currently published is too long even for E2: Most common are hepatitis B and C, cellulitis, pyogenic granuloma, keloid, impetigo, trauma to the pierced anatomy, etc.

Spiregrain pointed out a typical story.

So, why do it?

The literature suggests that pierced individuals display classic risk-seeking behaviour with an unusual high percentage of substance abusers between them, but that's probably typical for today's undergraduate.

It will be interesting to see whether todays pierced will still hang on to their studs and rings when they're having professional lives, but I guess only time and casualty department numbers will show.

Mayers LB, Judelson DA, Moriarty BW, Rundell KW.
Mayo Clin Proc 2002 Jan;77(1):29-34
Prevalence of body art (body piercing and tattooing) in university undergraduates and incidence of medical complications.

Forbes, GB
College students with tattoos and piercings: motives, family experiences, personality factors, and perception by others
Psychol Rep 2001 Dec;89(3):774-86

Tattooing, piercing, healthy behaviours and health value.
J Health Psychol. 2005 Dec;10(6):831-41.

Schwemmer U, Lintner M, Greim CA: Oral piercing: risk of aspiration.
Eur J Anaesthesiol. 2005 Sep;22(9):727-9

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