Although most body piercing jewelry, especially captive bead rings and barbells, is made to be pretty secure, it’s always possible for it to come loose. You should give your barbells a little twist every few days, just to make sure they’re holding tight. CBRs (captive bead rings) should also be checked occasionally, to ensure that the bead is still held snugly in place.
If you should happen to lose the ball off your CBR or the end of your barbell, don’t panic. However, because some piercings—particularly new ones—can close up quickly, you mustn't remove the jewelry. Instead, you need to find a way to temporarily hold it in place until you can get to a piercing shop and have it fixed. We consulted Dr. Niket Sonpal and expert piercer Brian Keith Thompson to learn what to do if you accidentally lose or swallow your body jewelry.
Keep scrolling to see their expert advice.
Meet the Expert
- Niket Sonpal, MD, is a board-certified physician, internist, and gastroenterologist based in New York. He is also an author and an adjunct professor at Touro College.
- Brian Keith Thompson is the owner and Chief Piercing Officer of Body Electric Tattoo in Los Angeles, servicing Hollywood A-listers like Cardi B, Ariana Grande, and Beyoncé.
CBRs usually tend to stay in place pretty well even if the ball is missing. If you have to wait a couple of days before you can get a replacement bead for it and you’re afraid the ring may fall out, close up the open section with something like a piece of tape or a pencil eraser. "Realistically, if it's small enough and thin enough you can kind of cinch the two ends of the ring together," Thompson explains. "But if it's a big, larger gauge CBR you're not going to be able to do that, so any type of malleable eraser piece would be the best bet." This is not a healthy long-term solution, but you’ll be fine for a day or two until you can replace the bead.
If the CBR is in your mouth, take a small piece of chewed gum or dental wax and mold it to fit in place of the bead. Keep in mind that sugary gum kept in your mouth constantly isn’t good for your teeth; sugar-free gum would be better. Spicy gum like cinnamon or mint might burn against oral tissue, so go with something that isn’t harsh. And don’t go more than a day like this—get to the piercing shop as soon as you can, especially if it's a newer piercing, suggests Thompson. "If it's a few years old, you can take the jewelry out, it's not going to close. Tongue piercings, let's say you've worn it for a year, you've got a few days before it starts kind of closing up on you," Thompson says, adding that with tongue piercings, a lot of times once they heal up properly, they never close.
If you lose the ball end off of a barbell, there's a good chance that the bar will manage to wriggle its way out quickly, so wad up a piece of chewed gum or dental wax and stick it over the end ASAP. Again, it's not a healthy solution, but it should be sufficient to hold the jewelry in place for a day or so; until you can get to the shop and have it repaired.
Jewelry Fell Out
If the entire ring or barbell fell out and you’re afraid the piercing will close up on you before you can get to the piercing shop, you can try to re-insert the jewelry if you're confident and familiar with the piercing. If your piercing is healed, this shouldn’t be a problem at all. If it’s new, though, the tissue inside the fistula may still be raw and can easily be damaged by a misaligned insertion. If you encounter any resistance, stop! You can realign the jewelry and try again, but don’t force it.
You need to be very careful when re-inserting jewelry—move super slowly, and follow the exact angle of the original piercing.
If you can’t get the jewelry back in, don’t try shoving anything else in there to hold it open. Just keep the open piercing as clean as possible (so you don’t introduce harmful bacteria inside the fistula) and get to the piercing shop as soon as possible. Even if the hole closes up a little bit, your piercer can sometimes use a taper to gently pry it back open so you don’t lose the piercing. Thompson suggests getting the jewelry reinserted within a couple of days if it's new, while older piercings (a year or older) can go weeks and be fine. "Unless it never truly healed and there's always a problem with it and you take it out, the body's going to seal that wound closed," he explains.
The worst-case scenario is that the hole closes up and you have to wait for it to heal and have it re-pierced. There's a lot of misconception and worry about whether you can re-pierce over closed-up scar tissue, but Thompson is here to put that myth to rest, "I have a lot of people think that you can't re-pierce where you've been pierced before," he says. "They think that it's going to A, hurt more or B, there's too much scar tissue. In most cases, that's not what's going to happen. Some people that have a little too much scarring that probably shouldn't get the piercing right back in the same place, say you tore your earlobe and a surgeon sews it back up, it's not the best to pierce onto that scar tissue. But, if you've had a nostril piercing and you really love the placement and the piercing fell out and you don't want another scar on your nose, yes you can [re-pierce]."
If you have an oral piercing and something comes loose, it’s possible to accidentally swallow part or all of the jewelry. While generally you should be okay and and the jewelry should pass through the bowels just fine, the size, shape, and texture of the piece determines the risk of damage or injury that could occur. Jewelry that's larger or has a pointed or rough texture could pose more risk of becoming stuck, getting caught, or tearing tissue in the digestive system.
If you just swallow the bead from a CBR or a ball end of a barbell, which are both about the size of a bb pellet, don't worry too much. They're mostly smooth, except for the tiny screw end on an internally threaded barbell, which doesn’t pose many problems and usually passes without incident.
"The uncertainty comes when you swallow something that has a pointed end or a rough texture," explains Sonpal. "Odds are, these types of jewelry pieces will also pass through the digestive system without issue, but the risk of damage to the tissue of the internal organ they must travel through is more present." Small, round, and smooth pieces generally can travel through the digestive tract without getting stuck or causing damage, Sonpal adds. "But a rougher or more complex piece of jewelry can cause issues, and this is why doctors warn against placing a ring in a drink or cupcake when proposing."
Swallowing a whole CBR, depending on the size, may or may not cause a problem. Since the bead has to be missing, in general, to have swallowed it in the first place, then there is a small opening that could, theoretically, get caught on things on the way through the digestive system. But, since the edges are smooth and most of it is circular, it should pass without posing a risk of puncturing anything. If it’s too large to pass through the more narrow passageways of the digestive system, though, it could become lodged and create an obstruction. It's unlikely, though.
Swallowing a barbell is a little riskier, and regardless, most barbells pass through the system without incident. But because it’s longer and will have at least one small end that could poke through soft tissue, it's more likely to create a problem on the way through the digestive system than other types of body jewelry.
If you feel like you’re choking, gagging, or can’t breathe, you need help to dislodge the jewelry immediately. If no one is around, you’ll have to perform the Heimlich on yourself. As soon as possible is the best time to learn how to do that, before you find yourself in danger.
When to See a Doctor
Sonpal says to go to the ER immediately if you are experiencing difficulty breathing or have any sharp pains. "In most instances, it is a waiting game," he says. "It may take about two to three days for a piece of jewelry to show up in your stool, depending on the person, but if at any point you are experiencing pain along your digestive tract—consider going in for medical attention." Bleeding in the mouth or soreness in the throat could also be a sign that the jewelry may have slashed tissue on its way out, in which case Sonpal says to seek medical attention.
If at any point, even a week after swallowing the object, you feel any pain or tenderness anywhere along the digestive line, have a fever, bleeding, or vomiting, get to the emergency room. If you’re a teen whose parents didn’t even know you had a piercing, this is no time to worry about getting in trouble. Internal damage can kill you.
It may not be pleasant, but the only way you’re going to know for sure if the jewelry has passed through your body is to check your bowel movements. But unless you plan to go sifting through stool for a week, which might be necessary if you’re really that worried, it’s possible that you won’t see it.
The Final Takeaway
Losing or swallowing a piece of jewelry is usually nothing to panic about. More often than not, your piercing should remain perfectly intact with proper care. If you are worried after swallowing a bead or ring, it's best to see a doctor and express your concerns to be safe.
Seattle Children's Hospital. Swallowed foreign object. Updated December 18, 2020.