Doc: Does keloid history nix earrings, tattoo forever?

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: At around 4-6 years of age, I got the chickenpox and, of course, had a lot of itchy bumps on my body. One bump in particular did not heal right; I scratched it so much that it formed into a small (smaller than a dime) keloid on my inner thigh. This happened no place else.

This was confirmed by my former pediatrician, who also told my parents and I that I should never get my ears pierced. Ever since then, I have never attempted to have anything pierced on my body nor get any tattoos. I am now 30 years of age, and I was really wanting to pierce my ears and cartilage. I have never had any major surgeries or huge cuts, so I’m not sure how my skin will react if I decide to get my ears pierced.

I played sports my entire life, so I have had floor burns, minor cuts and bruises, and a gash on my face without developing a keloid. I would really appreciate your insight on this matter, as this has been bothering me for a long time. I’ve always wanted my ears pierced, but I also don’t want to risk my outer appearance changing because of a decision that could have been avoided.


Dear A.C.: Because of your previous keloid, you are going to be at higher-than-average risk for developing a keloid, but I can’t even offer a guess on what the likelihood might be of getting one. The advice not to get your ears pierced remains the most conservative option, and the only one to guarantee you won’t get a keloid from piercing.

However, if you choose to try piercing, I can offer some advice on how to minimize your risk. Keeping the area meticulously clean with alcohol and sterile cotton and never touching it with your bare hands are good ideas. Pressure earrings reduce the risk, but they need to be worn at least 16 hours a day for six to 12 months for maximum effectiveness. Age seems to be important: Getting ears pierced between age 11 and 30 may have lower risk.

Dear Dr. Roach: Could a version of the kind of stent used to hold open coronary arteries be used to hold open urethras in men with prostate problems?


Dear F.M.: The theory is certainly sound. In men with enlarged prostates, the urethra (the tube through which urine flows from the bladder) is compressed as it goes right through the center of the prostate. A stent, which could hold the urethra open, would allow better flow of urine, reducing symptoms and improving quality of life. Several such stents are already commercially available and are used in certain circumstances, mostly in people who don’t do well with medication and who are at too high a risk for surgery. The reason you haven’t heard much about these stents is their complication rate. It’s high: About one man in six who gets one needs to have it removed. The main reason for this is that the stent moves from where it is needed to where it isn’t.

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