Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, but they have always had their health problems. The main potential problem with getting a tattoo is infection.
The tattooing process involves pushing pigment far down into the dermis of the skin with a needle. With modern stainless steel and sterilisation machines, this is much easier to keep clean and problem-free than the original tattooing method of rubbing ash in to wounds, but problems can still occur. If a tattooing needle is not completely and totally clean when it pierces your skin, it can deposit germs deep in to the skin along with the pigment it is delivering.
A major problem with infection from unclean tattooing is it can infect the recipient with Hepatitis B. In turn, hepatitis can cause inflammation of the liver, which is painful to start with, and if left to develop can become chronic and cause long-term damage and even death.
Initial symptoms of a Hepatitis infection can last for up to two weeks, and include a raised temperature, headache, and lack of energy. After this, jaundice can develop, and then potentially anorexia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. If left untreated you will probably then experience upper abdominal pain, a tender, enlarged liver and enlarged lymph glands in your neck.
By this point, the pain and other symptoms should have taken you to the doctors. They will need to carry out blood tests to confirm which strain of Hepatitis you have contracted (there are five types, A-E.) If you have developed a bad infection, you may need hospital care to recover, mainly so doctors can spot if you have the early stages of acute liver failure.
While you have a hepatitis infection, it is important not to take drugs, whether prescription, over-the-counter, or ‘recreational’ as they can cause further liver problems and conflict with medical treatment. It is very important not to drink alcohol as this can cause more problems for the liver, and a higher chance of long-term damage.
Up to 95% of adults with a Hepatitis B infection will recover fully, but the rest may develop life-long chronic Hepatitis, especially if they already have immunodeficiency problems before they get the infection.
Infection can be prevented by good living conditions, and Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccination, which many tattooists will have as a preventative measure as they do not wish to catch Hepatitis B from their customers, some of who may carry it unknowingly.
When you receive a tattoo, be confident that the tattooist’s equipment is properly sterilised, that they have been checked out by the local health department, and that you’re confident that they are clean. No responsible tattooist will mind showing you how they ensure their equipment is clean and safe. When the tattoo is healing, make sure you keep the tender area clean, and that you do not expose yourself to possible infection through poor hygiene or living conditions.
After receiving your tattoo, if you run a temperature, get headaches or a sudden lack of energy to do anything, get in touch with your doctor straight away. It is much better for it to be diagnosed as not being a problem than to risk having a Hepatitis infection and not having it treated as early as possible.