Getting your ear pierced isn't really a big deal anymore. Heck, even nose piercings are pretty tame fare in contemporary Western society. It's pretty normal nowadays, and thus you would assume that there are no major health risks anymore. Surely we would have ironed out all the kinks by now, right? Right?
Unfortunately, even the most mundane of piercings can have terrifying side effects. On rare occasions, they can even be deadly. Between infections, blood borne pathogens, and your body just generally hating having metal put in it, when getting pierced goes wrong it can be a life-altering ordeal. Like getting a tattoo, this increasingly mainstream form of body modification can have deadly consequences.
Please keep in mind that some of these medical side effects of piercing are incredibly rare. The vast majority of people who get their ears or nose pierced face no major problems besides a little pain and irritation (and getting hassled by their parents, of course). As long as you find a safe environment and an experienced piercer, things will probably be fine. That being said, things can go wrong and it's important to know the risks before getting pierced.
After all, you might want to think twice about what counts as a "safe" piercing.
Getting Your Ear Pierced Can Trigger Paralysis
Even though most nerves around your earlobe aren't particularly important, things can still go horribly wrong. Take the horrifying case of Grace Etherington.
A few days after a rather routine ear piercing, Grace began to experience tingling in her toes, as well as sensations of weakness. The doctors passed it off as nothing, but only a few days later, the girl experienced difficulty walking and was rushed to the hospital.
The numbness continued to spread, and soon she was having difficulty moving at all or even breathing. Doctors eventually recognized that this was all caused by Guillain-Barre syndrome, a very rare autoimmune disorder that can lead to complete paralysis. Terrifyingly, the underlying cause of GBS is unknown.
While this terrible illness is usually triggered by viral infection, it can also be pushed into motion through surgery or minor procedures such as an ear piercing. Grace is still in recovery, though she has regained almost all mobility and sensation.
You May Be Afflicted With Long-Lasting Keloid Scars
Scarring can be unsightly and embarrassing (and make you look like a Bond villain), but Keloid scars are on a whole different level. A Keloid is a type of scar which is made of cartilage and forms due to infection. After the scar is formed, unlike other scars, the unpleasantness is only getting started.
You may feel pain, itchiness, and a lumpiness in the skin texture around the ear. It may look puffy and differently colored than your normal skin tone, and it will last a very long time. In fact, they sometimes require serious medical treatment to fix. The truly unfortunate thing is that these scars are actually pretty common with ear and nose piercings. The best thing you can do is to try to keep the ear from getting infected while it heals.
Piercings Spreading Hepatitis Happen Way More Often Than You Think
People who fear piercings have long pointed to hepatitis as a reason to avoid the trend. Believe it or not, those squares actually have a point. It's not actually the earring or the piercer themselves that carries the disease, but rather it's the gun and poor cleaning training.
Blood can get onto and into parts of the gun, and shoddy cleaning or a lack of training can lead to the pathogen being getting passed from person to person later on. If we look to just one city as an example, Toronto had 537 recorded cases of hepatitis C in 2011. Of those cases, an astounding 147 cases involved piercing or tattoos. So the risk is quite a bit higher than you might have previously thought.
That being said, if you make sure your piercer practices good hygiene (and that all their tools are sterilized) the risk is basically nonexistent. Vigilance is the key.
You Could Wind Up With "Saddle Nose"
When it comes to nose piercings, things can get weird pretty quickly. There're the usual problems with infection and irritation, but there's also the risk of physical deformity. A little warping of your ear may not be as noticeable, but people will definitely notice if your nose suddenly changes shape.
In some rare cases, your septum (the area inside that divides your nose) can actually collapse after piercing. This flattens and pushes up the middle and front of your nose, bringing it awkwardly close to your face in some areas. It can also make it harder to breathe. This condition is often known as "saddle nose" and it takes serious cosmetic surgery to repair.