Tattoo Flu: Symptoms and Tips

Some people are excited about their new tattoo, while others may feel sick.

If you feel a little under the weather after putting on some new ink, you may be experiencing the “tattoo flu.” Usually mild and quick to pass, this post-tattoo flu-like illness is a common result of your body’s natural defenses saying “Wow! A sharp thing is making little holes in me!

Of course, after 2020, any symptoms might require a bit more attention. But identifying this particular error can be a bit tricky. So take it easy as we explain how to tell if you have the tattoo flu and how to treat it.

Aside from sounding like a Baby Boomer album title, tattoo flu is a fairly common physical response to repeated skin pricks. As the tattoo artist helps him permanently commemorate what he feels like, his immune system responds as if he were being injured by an artistic weapon.

And even though skin art might seem super radical, your body’s natural defenses see the new tattoo as nothing more than a big beady eye. So while you may be super relaxed mentally, your immune system could be charged up like there’s a four-alarm fire.

When the needle hits your skin, your pain receptors go into overdrive, giving you a nice rush of adrenaline which then makes your heart beat a little faster.

All this ruckus alerts your immune system that there could be a little situation here. After all, a needle is literally puncturing your skin. And during a typical tattoo session, the needle punctures your skin. much. A lot of pain = a lot of adrenaline = a lot of perceived threat to your body.

The immune system responds to this threat by sending out white blood cells, or leukocytes, to help fight possible infections. That’s when some symptoms can appear. And as your white blood cells go to work, your immune system becomes depleted, making you even more likely to get sick.

Tattoo flu could rock your body with any of the following discomforts:

  • slight fever
  • shaking chills
  • body pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • nausea vomiting
  • stomach pain and maybe diarrhea
  • some swelling around the tattoo area

All of these symptoms tend to be mild and usually occur within hours after the tattoo, but can even start to appear during the session.

If your fever or chills increase, or if you see pus, blood, or oozing on the skin around the tattooed area, this is a sign that you have an infection. Talk to a medical statistic.

Also, tattoo flu symptoms do NOT include congestion, runny nose, or cough. These symptoms may be a sign that you have OG flu or COVID.

Another great thing to keep in mind is that an allergic reaction and an infection are totally different. If you have a rash, redness, itching, or bumps around your new skin masterpiece, you may have an allergic reaction to the ink. Again, see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you succumb to tattoo flu, treat yourself. Rest. Watch TV during the day. Get some more rest. Eat very healthy foods. Rest even more. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to lower the fever. Basically, treat this illness like a normal flu.

Your symptoms should subside within a day or two as your body’s immune system calms down and begins working properly to heal the actual tattoo on your skin.

But again, call a health professional if you notice the following signs of infection:

  • high fever
  • increased body chills
  • diarrhea or vomiting that lasts more than a day
  • pus, blood, or anything that oozes from the new tattoo

Also, call a doctor if you have any of these signs of different illness:

  • runny nose
  • head congestion
  • chest congestion

Or if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction around the new tattoo:

  • rash
  • redness
  • itch
  • hits

Is there a way to avoid having a “tattoo hangover”?

One crucial tip is to rewind until prior to your tattoo session. First of all, choose a reputable artist who has extremely clean tools and a hygienic place. They probably know the best ways to keep this experience as safe and clean as possible.

There are many potential complications that come with getting a tattoo, so help your odds of avoiding them by keeping it clean and classy.

Also, anything that weakens your immune system will likely increase your chances of getting the tattoo flu. Stress is one of the main culprits in lowering our guard against illness. A reputable, solid tattoo artist will not only help you take care of your hygiene, but also put your mind at ease. Remember that stress has both physical and mental causes, so anything that helps your mind relax will also help your immune system.

… except for alcohol. DO NOT drink before getting a tattoo. A few cocktails can alleviate some of the nervousness, but alcohol weakens the immune system. And your tattoo artist probably doesn’t like dealing with a rowdy customer. Bottom line: Being drunk while getting a tattoo will not only increase your chances of getting a bad tattoo, it will also increase your chances of getting the tattoo flu.

Having a healthy meal before the needle touches your skin is also a good decision. Carry a bottle of water with you and sip regularly. Maybe even have some food, too. Take a few breaks during the session to get your mind and body in check. These breaks will reduce any fight or flight response, relaxing your heart rate and lowering your adrenaline levels, signaling your immune system to relax.

So before you sit down to copy that Pablo Neruda poem onto your left calf, make sure you’re sober, rested, fed, and hydrated.

After your tattoo, keep this relaxing routine for a day or two. Rest, eat well and drink water, not alcohol. And follow your highly-skilled tattoo artist’s advice on how to care for your new art.

As you recover from your radical new tattoo, some flu-like symptoms may come together with your normal pain and redness. Do not panic. This “tattoo flu” is pretty common and should fade from memory in a few days (unlike your new tattoo). Your body’s immune system makes you feel wiped out as it attacks potential threats to your body.

Watch for low-grade fever, chills, fatigue, and some stomach upset. Treat yourself to plenty of rest, healthy food, and non-alcoholic beverages. But if your symptoms last more than a couple of days or get worse, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Anything that helps boost your immune system is a plus, like staying hydrated, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating healthy foods. If, at the end of the day, you still feel nervous about getting a tattoo, go for a skin art test with a temporary tattoo. There are no needles involved.

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