If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never heard of tattoo flu. As its name suggests, it is a flu-like sickness that some individuals experience after getting tattooed.
While you’re probably excited about getting your new piece of art, tattoo flu could (unfortunately) be lurking around the corner. Knowing what to watch for is important in your recovery process, so be sure to check out the symptoms and ways to avoid the tattoo flu, which are listed below.
What is tattoo flu?
As far as your immune system is concerned, your new tattoo is nothing more than a fresh, open wound. Once it recognizes that there has been an injury sustained, it deploys white blood cells, or leukocytes, in full force. The leukocytes go to work to fight any potential threats of infection and to rid the wound of debris and extra ink.
Because the immune system is rapidly responding to this trauma, some people will experience flu-like symptoms during the first stages of the healing process. There are a few other factors that can worsen these symptoms as well, which will be discussed shortly.
Tattoo Flu Symptoms
Symptoms of tattoo flu vary from person to person. Some people simply notice that they’re more tired than usual, while others feel like they’ve gotten “hit by a truck.”
If you have one or more of the following symptoms after getting a tattoo, you may be experiencing tattoo flu:
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Body aches or soreness
- Cold chills
- Feeling weak
- Nausea or vomiting
- Tattoo swelling
It is important to note that you should not experience symptoms such as a runny nose, head or chest congestion, or a cough. If you have these symptoms, you may want to contact your healthcare provider, as you could have the real flu.
How long does Tattoo Flu last?
First, let’s discuss when the tattoo flu usually begins. Some people will first notice flu-like symptoms during their tattoo session. However, others may experience symptoms a few hours later or even the following day.
The good news is that the tattoo flu does not last nearly as long as the real flu, and it is not contagious. Typically, tattoo flu only lasts 24-48 hours.
So, if you’re feeling crummy and you’re starting to regret the decision of getting inked… don’t! Your symptoms should subside soon, and you will be back to feeling great in no time.
What can worsen tattoo flu symptoms?
There are few things that can exacerbate your tattoo sickness, so you may want to avoid these if possible.
Long tattoo sessions can accelerate flu-like symptoms. If you’re getting a back piece or a sleeve and expect to be in the studio all day, you may begin to experience symptoms during the session or shortly afterwards.
Not moving around very much during a long session can also bring on symptoms. When you sit in one position for hours at a time, your body may begin to feel weak and achy. Make sure to take breaks during your tattoo session and try to sit in different positions if possible.
Additionally, if you are prone to anxiety and feel very stressed during your appointment, you will need to watch out for the tattoo flu. Anxiety “jump starts” your immune system, which can worsen symptoms.
If you are feeling overly anxious, it is important to take frequent breaks and find ways to distract yourself during your session. Listen to music or talk to your artist to take your mind off the tattooing. Most importantly, communicate with your artist if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or panicky.
Lastly, if you are already feeling sick, you should probably reschedule your tattoo appointment. Not only is it a bad idea to expose others to your illness, it will also increase your chances of getting full-blown tattoo flu.
How can I treat tattoo flu symptoms?
There are a few things you can do to lessen the severity of your tattoo flu symptoms. First, make sure you are eating nutritious, balanced meals and drinking plenty of water. It is important to make sure your body is getting the nutrients and fluids it needs to recover from the trauma of getting a tattoo.
If you feel tattoo flu coming on strong, take a day off work, if possible. Get plenty of rest while your body recuperates.
Additionally, you may want to consider over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to help alleviate symptoms. (Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any new medication.) These medications can help manage symptoms until the tattoo flu passes.
Is it serious or a cause for concern? When should I see a doctor? Is it a sign of an allergic reaction or infection?
Thankfully, tattoo flu is rarely serious. As previously mentioned, it usually only lasts one to two days. However, if it hangs on for longer than two days, you should make an appointment with your doctor right away to rule out infection or other medical problems.
Certain flu-like symptoms can indicate a possible tattoo infection, which needs immediate medical attention. Prolonged fever, chills, pain, and tattoo swelling could suggest that your tattoo is becoming infected.
Tattoo infections are rare and usually happen in less than 6% of people. Contaminated tattoo tools and ink can transmit infections, and improper aftercare can sometimes lead to infection. If this does happen to you, you may need antibiotics to help get rid of the infection. It is important to note that early detection is key in treatment this condition.
Allergic reactions are quite different from infections, and they rarely create flu-like symptoms. If you’re having an allergic reaction, you’re more likely to experience bumps, redness, itching, or a rash at the tattoo site. While this is unrelated to tattoo flu, you should still consider seeing your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
8 Tips to Prevent the Tattoo Flu
The good news is that there are things you can do help you avoid getting the tattoo flu (or lessen the severity of your symptoms). Check out these eight tips!
- After your session, don’t skimp on healthy meals, either. Continue to make wholesome food choices for several days after getting tattooed.
- Take a bottle of water with you the day of your tattoo, and sip on it periodically. Just like with the nutritious meals, don’t let up after you get home. Continue to drink water (or low-sugar sports drinks) for the next couple of days.
- Also, steer clear of aspirin or other blood thinning drugs before, during, and after your tattoo appointments. (Consult your doctor before stopping any medications you take regularly.)
- Continue to get your rest when you get home. A well-rested body restores itself much more quickly than a tired body!
- If you worry that you will have anxiety during your appointment, carefully choose an artist whose personality meshes well with yours. Book with someone who is understanding, patient, and sympathetic about your concerns. A caring artist can sometimes go a long way when trying to avoid the tattoo flu.
- If you just had a long day on the beach, it might be best to reschedule your appointment. You’ll want to avoid sun exposure for a few weeks after getting tattooed as well.
- In fact, any activity that leaves your body feeling sore or drained should be avoided. Don’t schedule a tattoo the day after you help a friend move into a new apartment or run a half marathon. Your body stands a much better chance avoiding tattoo flu if your muscles are fully rested.
- Vitamin C is necessary for the repair of body tissues, helps with immune response, and aids in wound healing. For best results, try to start taking the supplements at least a week before your appointment. (Consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.)
While tattoo flu does not affect everyone, it is possible that you will encounter one or more of its symptoms after a tattoo session. Make sure to watch for the listed symptoms and contact your doctor if they last longer than 48 hours.
Eat well, stay hydrated, and make sure to follow the additional tips leading up to your appointment. If tattoo flu rears its ugly head, rest up while continuing to make healthy choices, and you will be feeling better in no time. There’s no doubt about it- Your awesome new ink will be worth it in the end!