A Tattoo Could Save Your LifeS

Lots of people have severe allergies, but they don't exactly have a badass reputation. Solution: get a list of what you're allergic to tattooed right on your skin.

According to the AP, a significant number of people with allergies or other conditions like diabetes are turning to this method. They're not actually doing it to look cool — rather, they want to send a message to medical professionals that can't be lost or broken, like a bracelet. Says Melissa Boyer: "It's been 29 years that I've had (diabetes), and I went through I-don't-know-how-many bracelets. I went and got the tattoo, and it made life easier." Dr. Ed Friedlander, meanwhile, doesn't have allergies or diabetes. But he doesn't want paramedics to do CPR if his heart stops, so he had "no CPR" tattooed on his chest. He says, "Bracelets are nice, but something as strong as a tattoo ... that is a strong statement."

Friedlander's mark is more of a traditional tattoo than Boyer's, insofar as it sends a message about his beliefs. He may intend it as a simple warning to EMTs, but it's also a political statement of sorts, not so different from getting a peace sign on your forearm. Most medical tattoos seem more pragmatic, but they too have the potential to become statements of identity. For people who do a lot of advocacy work around their medical condition, or who identify strongly with a disability community, a tattoo could be a statement of identity and solidarity as well as a medical directive.

Some doctors are advocating for more official policies on reading and responding to the tattoos. Says Dr. Saleh Aldasouqi: "My intention has been to bring this issue to the surface so that medical organizations can have a say in that. When you just Google it, you're going to find hundreds of stories and discussions, but no medical say. So I feel we leave our patients kind of afloat." He adds that he's neutral on the tattoos themselves, but if a diabetic patient wants to get one, they should be careful to monitor their blood sugar throughout the procedure. Which brings up another issue: safety. Many medical conditions have little impact on tattooing, but some do. I, for instance, probably shouldn't get an allergy tattoo. I'm allergic to nickel, which is present in, among other things, tattoo ink.

Medical Tattoos Offer Important Health Information [AP, via ABC]

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