It is normal to notice irritation or swelling after getting a tattoo. But tattoo reactions can go beyond simple irritation. The skin may swell, itch and pus leak out.
Most allergic reactions are related to certain dyes. This hypersensitivity is often presented as contact dermatitis or sensitivity to light.
You can usually cure mild cases at home. But if the symptoms persist – or are more severe from the start – you will need to see a doctor or other healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Read on to find out what symptoms to look for, how to distinguish between an allergy and an infection, and treatment options.
How to identify an allergic reaction?
Allergy symptoms vary in severity. Some are simply on the skin and resolve within a few days.
Mild allergic reactions can cause:
rashes or lumps
peeling of the skin
swelling or accumulation of fluid around the tattoo ink
scaly skin around the tattoo
The most severe reactions can affect the whole body. Consult a doctor or other health care professional if you begin to experience:
intense itching or burning around the tattoo
pus or drainage resulting from the tattoo
chills or heat
Seek urgent medical help if you develop swelling around the eyes or have difficulty breathing.
What is the difference between an allergy and an infection?
Although the symptoms are often similar, there are some key differences that can help you distinguish between the two.
These symptoms only affect the skin near the tattoo. Think of localized itching, burning, swelling, and redness. You should not have any general symptoms.
If the dye is causative, the symptoms will only appear around the pigment. Red dye is the most common allergen.
Often, the symptoms will only last for a few days. In some cases, the symptoms may last for several weeks before disappearing completely.
The infection can also cause redness, irritation and itching, but these symptoms usually extend beyond the tattooed area.
Superficial symptoms may be present in addition to those affecting the whole body, such as fever or chills.
Symptoms of infection also tend to last much longer – anywhere from a few days to a week or more.
If the symptoms are mild, you may be able to use over-the-counter (OTC) medication to find relief.
OTC antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help reduce general symptoms. Day ointments, such as hydrocortisone or triamcinolone (Cinolar) cream, can help soothe local inflammation and other irritations.
If OTC methods are not working, a doctor may prescribe a stronger antihistamine or other medication to help relieve your symptoms.
Infections are likely to require taking antibiotics.