Accidents happen, and so do emergencies. What do we do when something is wrong with our piercing, at 3 am, and there are no piercers we can contact for help? How do we know what’s the best thing we can do for our piercing, and how to keep things safe? This is the Emergency Series, where I’m hoping to cover common accidents and piercing emergencies with some basic advice intended to help you make it till you can get in touch with your piercer.
Today's topic- Swallowing Jewelry
Oral piercings have been and continue to be quite popular piercings for all kinds of clients. But everyone's nightmare when it comes to oral piercings is this one- what if I accidentally swallow my jewelry?? As piercers, we do everything we can to minimize this from occurring. We use threaded jewelry and tighten it down as much as we can. We remind clients to check jewelry for tightness. We stress the importance of a good fit on jewelry and not playing with it. But despite this, accidents happen. Something comes unthreaded or gets snagged or we don’t even notice something happening while we are eating! What do we do when we accidentally swallow part or all of our jewelry?
In these situations, it’s really easy to panic and become stressed, overwhelmed, and scared. Those are normal responses, but they also make it a lot harder for us to think rationally and make good choices. So please, take a few deep breaths. Sip some water. And try to calm down. It will be ok. This sort of thing happens to people all the time, and it is not the end of the world. You, and your piercing, will come out of this just fine! I myself have accidentally swallowed jewelry on more than one occasion (perks of having a stretched tongue, I tell ya.) so I can tell you from personal and professional experience that you are going to be fine.
Determine what was Swallowed
The first thing to do in this situation is to figure out what you swallowed. Was it the entire barbell? Just a ball? Just an end? Take a moment to take stock of your piercings and see what is missing. Most often, folks swallow just an end. Usually, the barbell remains in place, and one of the ends comes unscrewed and gets unknowingly swallowed. Don’t forget to check over food if you were eating at the time this happened- I’ve had clients think they swallowed an entire labret only to find the front in their meal- the back was all they got. It’s important to determine what was swallowed so you understand what you are dealing with. If you are unsure of what you had and what may have been installed, check the aftercare your piercer gave you. Most piercers write down the specifics of the jewelry they used on your aftercare paper, and you can know exactly what style of jewelry you had to understand what may have been swallowed.
Seek Emergency Care
Any time we swallow a foreign object, it’s important we get medical care to prevent any serious issues. When we have a foreign object, even a piece of body jewelry, in our digestive tract, there is always a risk it could cause damage or tear something along the way. If you have a primary care physician, I would call their office first. They can give you advice on symptoms to watch out for or may send you to the ER for imaging. A doctor can do an x-ray or a CT scan to determine that you’ve actually swallowed the object, where it is, and make sure it’s not causing any damage. The good news is 80-90% of cases where a foreign object is swallowed pass naturally without any issues. Less than 1% of cases end up requiring surgery to remove. Yes, this means you are probably going to poop it out. Aren’t bodies cool?
However, it’s important to acknowledge that there are major barriers to medical care and many folks who may find themselves in this situation may not have access to go to an ER or see a doctor when this happens. While seeing a doctor is always the best practice, I want to also include some advice for those who are unable to seek medical care.
And that’s some patience, a box of gloves, and time. As I said above 80-90% of cases pass the object naturally with no issues. Depending on the object’s size, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to pass. I would avoid taking medication or trying to induce vomiting, as these objects can cause serious damage and even puncture things on the way up. Likewise, taking laxatives is ill-advised as this can cause damage on the way out. Your best bet is to be patient, eat and drink as normal, stay hydrated, and give your body time to pass it. It’s important to ensure that you actually do pass it, and this is where the gloves come in. Yes- you should check through each bowel movement until you find the jewelry and have ensured it has passed without issue. If I’m being honest, this is often what many medical professionals will suggest if you find yourself in this situation- to allow time to pass it naturally.
Please watch for breathing problems, unusual pain, or sensations in your stomach or digestive tracts, and please if anything feels wrong or unusual, seek medical attention to be safe.
I would also suggest contacting your piercer to let them know what happened. They can get you information about your jewelry, and what was used, and potentially have information that medical professionals could need if necessary. They can also help get you replacement jewelry so you can keep your piercing from closing. As an aside, this is why threaded jewelry is the preference for inter-oral piercings. Threads are not a major risk if swallowed, unlike threadless ends.
It’s incredibly frightening to realize you have swallowed something accidentally, but the good news is our bodies are pretty incredible and built to protect us. Humans have been swallowing things we shouldn’t for a long time (just like our dogs and cats) and fortunately, we usually do a decent job of handling that. It may be a messy few days getting intimate with some unexpected functions of your body, but it will be fine! In a few months, this will be a very funny story to tell on a second (or third) date.