Reactions from tattoos may occur years after you’ve received the inking, doctors have warned, after a woman was admitted to hospital 15 years after getting a tattoo.
The unnamed 30-year-old suffered enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands) and pain in her armpits, which she originally feared may be signs of cancer.
But following tests, doctors concluded that her symptoms were signs of a reaction from a black ink tattoo on her back, which she’d had performed 15 years earlier.
Previous research has already indicated that elements that make up tattoo ink can travel inside the body and reach the lymph nodes - which filter disease, germs and bacteria from the body - but the latest case study suggests reaction from a tattoo can occur for a longer period of time than previously thought.
There’s little evidence to suggest how common it is to have a reaction to a tattoo. So, how do you spot the signs?
In light of the woman’s case, doctors have advised other medical professionals to consider whether or not their patient has a tattoo when seeing apparent symptoms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system).
According to Dr Clare Morrison, a GP from online medical service MedExpress, an infection or allergic reaction from a tattoo both have similar symptoms.
The first signs you may notice are:
You experience swelling somewhere on your body over a period of a few days
The tattoo has a slimy discharge oozing from it
Fever - this is one of the surest signs of infection, even if it’s only mild
While infections can be caused by getting a tattoo from a parlour that doesn’t follow hygiene regulations, allergic reactions are more difficult to avoid.
“Reactions occur because tattoo ink contains several ingredients and chemicals - you could be allergic to any one of them,” Dr Morrison told HuffPost UK.
“Substances include iron oxide, mercury sulfide, aluminium and manganese. Red tattoo ink is the most common cause of tattoo allergic reactions.”
Dr Morrison said if you think you may be suffering an allergic reaction after having a tattoo, you should never try to take care of the problem yourself.
“Immediately visit a dermatologist and get a diagnosis. And if you are feeling really unwell, best to go to the doctors or A&E immediately,” she said.
“The doctor could well prescribe you a course of antibiotics. The tattoo may even have to be removed - never try to do this yourself.”
Dr Nisith Sheth, a spokesperson from the British Skin Foundation, said “there are not any statistics or even reliable estimates for tattoo reactions” available, meaning it’s hard to warn customers how common such reactions are.
“I would probably say that infections and allergic reactions of tattoos done by professionals are not common, but certainly not rare,” he told HuffPost UK.
However, he added that “tattoos can be associated with a myriad of complications”.
“These can include common and rare infections, hypersensitivity reactions, delayed immune reactions such as granuloma and lichenoid reactions,” he said.
“To minimise the risk go to a reputable practitioner who operates out of clean professional environment with the appropriate licence to do tattoos. Make sure your practitioner is aware of your medical history particularly a history of immunosuppression, allergic reactions, recurrent infections and medications.”
He also said it’s important to make sure you understand the consent process regarding tattoos and get clear aftercare instructions from your artist.
“Try and get as much information as possible about the composition of the inks used as this can be helpful if there is a complication further down the line,” he said.
For more information about tattoo infection or allergic reaction, visit your GP.