Signs and symptoms of tattoo infection (and what to do about it)

Signs and symptoms of tattoo infection (and what to do about it)

The signs and symptoms you may encounter if your tattoo becomes infected can vary greatly depending on the type of infection you contract, the location of the infection, size of the wound, how your immune system copes with fighting it off and how long the infection persists.

It is important to note that some of the symptoms mentioned below, for example redness, swelling and mild discomfort may be experienced as part of the normal tattoo healing process. It is when these symptoms worsen that you should be concerned.

Common signs and symptoms of tattoo infection 

The following may be indicative of an infection:

  • Ongoing pain that worsens, becoming extreme: Tattoos are painful but if the pain intensifies instead of getting better, and becomes excruciating, unbearable or searing or if the tattoo is painful to touch a week to 10 days after it was done this may signal an infection
  • Rash: A slight rash is common after having a tattoo, but if the rash gets worse or spreads outwards from the tattooed area, this may indicate infection.
  • Extreme redness of the skin: Most tattoos are inflamed and red right after they’ve been done, but if the redness intensifies rather than resolving within a week of the procedure, you may have an infection.
  • Hot skin: The skin under and surround a tattoo will generally be warm to the touch due to the inflammation and healing that is taking place. However, if your skin suddenly becomes very hot or is still warm or hot to the touch after 7 days of having the tattoo, this can be a sign that infection has set in.
  • Itching (pruritis): While itching can be part of the healing process, if it doesn’t go away after applying lotion, continues for more than a couple of days and/or intensifies, and is accompanied by other symptoms listed above, infection may be to blame.
  • Discharge: If the sores that form over your tattoo ooze thick white, yellow or green fluid (not the thinner transparent plasma that is normal), this is a sign of infection.

The above may also be accompanied by other more generalised signs and symptoms of infection which include:

  • A fever of 38.8 °C / 102 °F
  • Extreme thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Body weakness

If you experience any of the above signs and symptoms and suspect that you may have a tattoo infection, visit your doctor or emergency room immediately.

Infected tattoo

Treatment of tattoo infection

Minor allergic reactions that result in small bumps that look like hives, or a faint rash may be treated with antihistamines containing diphenhydramine.

Mild skin infections will often be treated with topical antibiotic creams or ointments. In more serious infections oral antibiotics may be prescribed and cases of more severe infections (i.e. viral or bloodborne infections), IV antibiotics may be necessary, and a skin sample will often be taken and sent for analysis to determine the exact cause of infection.

Infections that require more comprehensive treatment than the mere antibiotic therapy will be treated according to the cause of the infection.

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