Is Tongue Piercing a Health Hazard?

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A woman in her 20s gets a tongue piercing. A month later she develops a brain abscess. Doctors believe that the brain infection is secondary to tongue piercing!

A 22-year-old female got a tongue piercing. The next day her tongue started to swell, and she started to have pain. Moreover, gradually, she felt an ill tasting discharge from the pierced site. She decided to remove the jewellery. Thereafter the symptoms resolved.

She had no fever, chills, or sweats; therefore, she did not seek any professional help.

No later than 4 weeks, she presented with severe throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Her condition worsened over the next 2 days. Pain killers were not helping her headache; therefore, she decided to seek medical attention.

She had a history of recreational inhaled and injected cocaine and heroin but had not used any injection for the past 5 months.

Examination did not reveal tongue swelling, redness, or pus. The piercing was not visible either.

The doctors decided to perform a neurological examination. They found mild balance problems and mild ataxia during left-sided heel-to-shin testing.

Brain computed tomography scan showed an enhancing lesion in the right cerebellar region with surrounding edema.

Cerebellum, also called the little brain, is a part of the brain that is responsible for coordination, balance, precision and timing of movements. Infections of the ear or sinuses are known to migrate to this part of the brain and form abscesses.

Magnetic resonance imaging confirmed the diagnosis of brain abscess.

Richard Martinello, M.D., of the Section of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, said: “The bacteria that caused the abscess in this patient were those typically found in persons’ mouths. We conclude the abscess potentially arose secondary to the tongue piercing associated infection.“

The surgeons drained the abscess and started her on antibiotics for 6 weeks, intravenously. She made full recovery. Although she had some complications due to antibiotic use, those adverse effects resolved shortly after.

Follow-up brain CT showed complete resolution of the abscess.

Source: Richard A. Martinello, Elizabeth L. Cooney, Cerebellar Brain Abscess Associated with Tongue Piercing, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 36, Issue 2, 15 January 2003, Pages e32–e34,

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Dr. Arsia Hanif has been a meritorious Healthcare professional with a proven track record throughout her academic life securing first position in her MCAT examination and then, in 2017, she successfully completed her Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery from Dow University of Health Sciences. She has had the opportunity to apply her theoretical knowledge to the real-life scenarios, as a House Officer (HO) serving at Civil Hospital. Whilst working at the Civil Hospital, she discovered that nothing satisfies her more than helping other humans in need and since then has made a commitment to implement her expertise in the field of medicine to cure the sick and regain the state of health and well-being. Being a Doctor is exactly what you’d think it’s like. She is the colleague at work that everyone wants to know but nobody wants to be. If you want to get something done, you approach her – everyone knows that! She is currently studying with Medical Council of Canada and aspires to be a leading Neurologist someday. Alongside, she has taken up medical writing to exercise her skills of delivering comprehensible version of the otherwise difficult medical literature. Her breaks comprise either of swimming, volunteering services at a Medical Camp or spending time with family.


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