Are Hickeys Dangerous? The Truth About Love Bites

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a double image of a man with a large hickey on his neck, he seems slightly threatening

My partner adores giving me hickeys. I’m pretty convinced it’s his way of marking his territory. Though I might have to cover them up for my day job, I definitely don’t mind it. They feel good, you know?

As great as hickeys feel, they have their drawbacks and make you wonder if they’re worth it. You might have to cover or get rid of a hickey if you're going to be around family or your boss.

Lately, I’ve had people tell me the cute little “love bites” my partner is putting on me might actually come back to bite me. Some even have warned me that hickeys are dangerous.

I can tell you hickeys can be dangerous to certain careers, since you can get written up quickly from having these little bruises on your neck.

But are hickeys bad or dangerous?

In general, even though they may look painful and embarrassing, hickeys are harmless and not anything to worry about. There is some risk of blood clots involved as hickeys are formed, but the chances of that happening are extremely low.

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What causes hickeys?

Did you ever wonder what makes your neck turn red and purple after your partner gives you a hickey?

When your mouth latches onto skin hard enough and causes enough suction, super-tiny blood vessels under the surface of your skin called capillaries can rupture. The rupture causes blood from the capillaries to leak into the surrounding areas and causes the bruised look of a hickey on your neck.

Can you get blood clots from hickeys?

People who claim hickeys are bad news point out they can cause clots in your major blood vessels and cause a stroke. Some also might tell you hickeys can cause permanent discoloration or they can potentially transmit herpes. I’ve even heard some people claim hickeys can cause cancer!

Scary tales, aren’t they? Well, there’s some good news and some bad news about each rumor.

The potential for lethal blood clots is there, but there’s a catch. When the capillaries rupture and spill into surrounding areas, blood cells can cram nearby vessels, which in turn causes clots. In very rare cases, the clots can cause serious issues like a stroke.

In 2010, a 44-year-old in a woman in New Zealand reportedly suffered a blood clot believed to then cause a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body. Doctors referred to her condition as an "interesting case of blunt carotid artery trauma caused by a love bite."

And in 2016, local media reported that after a 17-year-old boy in Mexico City died of a stroke, his doctors believed "the suction of the love bite resulted in a blood clot, which travelled to [his] brain and caused the stroke."

Still, you shouldn’t get too worried about hickeys.

The chances of you dying from a hickey are seriously small — at least, that’s what Dr. Douglas Steinbrech, one of New York City’s top plastic surgeons, has to say.

“Blood clots should be avoided whenever possible,” says Dr. Steinbrech. “Any blood clot can be potentially lethal. However, the chances of dying from a hickey-induced blood clot are very, very low. ”

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Can hickeys cause cancer?

No, hickeys cannot and do not cause cancer.

Can hickeys spread herpes?

Did you ever hear about people getting cold sores after someone gave them a hickey? Well, those stories appear to be pretty legit.

Oral herpes may be spread in the process of receiving a hickey if enough blood vessels break and come into contact with the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1).

Though a very large percentage of adults will get oral herpes, people who don’t have it should take precautions to avoid it if at all possible. If you see someone with a cold sore, you might want to avoid letting them give you a hickey.

Can hickeys leave scars?

The most common issue with hickeys is the embarrassing discoloration. And while it is unlikely to happen, there is some chance a hickey could leave a permanent mark, particularly if it was accompanied by puncture wounds from teeth or if you or your partner continue to cause trauma to the same area of the skin rather than allowing it to heal.

When blood vessels burst, you’re dealing with an injury. Unsurprisingly, the injuries involved with hickeys tend to be pretty superficial.

In general, scarring happens when injuries don’t fully heal. The skin gets a bit tougher and a little discolored as a result.

The key thing to remember is the severity of the hickey matters when it comes to the chances of scarring. Most light love bites will not lead to scarring, especially if they’re light.

On the other hand, if someone goes full Nosferatu on your neck, there’s a small chance you might end up with permanent damage.

Overall, hickeys are slightly risky but not usually lethal.

As bad as it is to hear, hickeys are not very good for you. They can lead to serious damage, could make you sick or scar your skin. However, there is some good news. The chances of this happening are low — very low.

So, does this mean you have to say no to hickeys?

Well, it’s all up to you. All sexual activity, even kissing, comes with some level of risk. If we all said no to all risky stuff, we wouldn’t last long as a species, would we?

But if you don’t like the risks, let your partner know hickeys are a non-starter.

RELATED: How To Set Healthy Boundaries — So You Stop Getting Hurt

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.