How To Treat An Infected Ear Piercing? Symptoms And Prevention

Master the treatment plan for minor infections and prep for your next piercing with grit!

Written by , MA (Mass Communication & Journalism) Joyce Joyson MA (Mass Communication & Journalism)
Edited by , BTech Anjali Sayee BTech Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English Literature) Aparna Harry MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years

Getting an ear piercing is so exciting! You can now flaunt all the many cute ear accessories that you have stocked up. However, one dreaded possibility that makes you question whether to get one done or not is an infected ear piercing. An ear piercing is a hole, essentially an open wound, through the earlobe or the cartilage in your ear through which you pass an ear accessory like earrings. An infection occurs when the piercing happens in unhygienic conditions or gets dirty afterward due to improper care. It may take several weeks to heal an ear piercing infection and you may even need medical attention in severe cases. However, it can be prevented with a few proper care tips. In this article, you can learn everything you need to know about an infected ear piercing, its symptoms, and prevention. Read on!

Causes Of An Ear Piercing Infection

Image: Shutterstock

An infection should not occur if the piercing is done in a hygienic place, under the guidance of a well-trained professional, and with properly sanitized tools. However, a majority of piercings get infected. A study conducted on 1,000 nurses with piercings found that cartilage piercings (32%) were more prone to infection than earlobe piercings (29%) (1). Research suggests that there is a higher incidence of ear infections due to the low blood supply at the ear that impacts wound healing (2). Apart from unhygienic practices, there are many causes for an infected ear piercing, the most common being a bacterial infection.

Although several microorganisms can lead to body piercing infections, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species are the most common bacteria associated with an infected piercing (2). As mentioned before, an ear piercing is an open wound. If bacteria are allowed to come in contact and fester around the area, it disrupts the normal healing process and leads to bacterial infections.

An infection can also occur if you frequently touch your piercing before it is healed. It may also be caused if the jewelry you use is rough or the earring clasp is too tight. Avoid wearing nickel earrings as they tend to trigger allergic reactions that may indirectly lead to infections due to itching or inflamed skin (3). This is recommended for everyone, not just those with a nickel sensitivity. Irregular or faulty cleaning techniques can also be a reason for infections. Even a quick swipe with dirty hands can lead to an infection. So the piercing needs to be handled with the utmost care.

But how do you know that your piercing is infected? Read the next section to know what an infected ear piercing looks like.

protip_icon Quick Tip
Avoid using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on an infected piercing as it can further delay healing and irritate the skin.

What Does An Infected Ear Look Like?

Piercing site turning red due to infection
Image: Shutterstock

It is easy to confuse the normal piercing aftermath with the signs of an infection, as a certain degree of pain and redness is common for a new piercing. You may also notice a small, bumpy appearance called granulomas, which are also common for a new piercing.

However, when an infection occurs, the symptoms are more pronounced and aggressive. An infection in the ear cartilage is even more severe due to the restricted blood supply in the area and is harder to heal. Restricted blood flow can lead to the death of tissues, a condition called gangrene, that may cause a bacterial infection (2), (4). Therefore, it is crucial to recognize infection symptoms as soon as possible and get the required medical treatments done immediately.

Here are some common ear-piercing infection symptoms to look for (5):

  • More and prolonged redness than usual
  • Soreness and a warm feeling in and around the piercing
  • Swollen, tender, or itchy skin around the piercing
  • Crusts form around the piercing
  • Boils from the pierced area
  • Yellow, pus-like discharge that may or may not be smelly
  • Fever and chills
protip_icon Quick Tip
For piercings other than those on the earlobe, needles are considered better than piercing guns as they require only a single use that reduces the risk of infection.

Recognizing an ear piercing infection is important but then comes a more crucial part- its treatment. Learn how to treat infected ear piercings in the next section.

How To Treat An Infected Ear Piercing

Most ear piercings are not severely infected and exhibit mild symptoms. If you catch it early enough, good for you! You may easily treat an earring hole infection at home in a few simple steps.

1. Use A Saline Wash

A woman cleaning her piercing with a saline wash
Image: Shutterstock

Either get a store-bought sterile saline solution or mix half a teaspoon of salt with 1 cup of warm water to make your own. Soak a cotton swab in the saltwater solution and gently clean both sides of your ears and the piercing. Avoid using gauze, cotton balls, or alcohol to prevent irritating the pierced skin.

Ellinia, a blogger, shares her experience with an infected piercing. She writes, “I had to close this piercing and it sort of gave me a scar on my left ear. Isn’t pretty as well. Just take good care of your piercings and disinfect it daily with sea salt + water and it’ll be alright (i).”

2. Use An Ointment

After you have cleaned the area with saline solution, apply a thin layer of an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. Use a clean Q-tip to apply the ointment on the pierced skin to prevent further irritation and worsening of the infection.

3. Use Drugs For Pain

Image: Shutterstock

For occasional pain and swelling, you may take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relief. However, do not use these drugs for regular and severe pain.

4. Avoid Contact

Avoid keeping the piercing wet and let it air-dry. Touch your ears as little as possible and only with clean hands. Also, avoid wearing jewelry until the infection has healed. If the infection has formed around the earring, do not move it too much as this may introduce more infection-causing bacteria and aggravate the wound further.

Usually, an earlobe piercing heals within 2 weeks with proper care and treatment. You can reduce the risk of infection by following the right post-piercing care instructions as recommended by an expert piercer or your healthcare provider. Sometimes, the infected ear piercing can become too critical to be treated at home and require medical assistance. Read the next section to learn when to seek medical care for ear infections.

When To Visit A Doctor To Treat An Ear Piercing Infection

Image: Shutterstock

In rare cases, an ear piercing infection can become a severe wound, and medical care is necessary to stop the further spread of the infection and the treatment of the wound through oral antibiotics and other antibiotic treatment. An untreated infection can lead to cellulitis where the infection spreads into the bloodstream. In worst cases, it can even lead to a systemic infection that spreads to the rest of the body.

If you notice these signs of infection, you should seek immediate medical help:

  • Your earring is stuck inside the earlobe.
  • Redness is spreading to the upper part of the ear.
  • The infection has formed an abscess.
  • You are experiencing severe or throbbing pain.
  • A smelly discharge leaks from the infected skin.
  • You have a fever with chills.

However, a severe ear infection only occurs in a few cases. With routine care and precautionary measures, you can easily avoid an ear-piercing infection. Scroll to the next section for some precautionary steps that you can take.

How To Prevent An Ear Piercing Infection

Ear piercings are common and safe to get when done in reputable salons. You can avoid an ear piercing infection easily if you are careful from the start and follow the right aftercare tips religiously.

Here are some common precautionary measures that you should take to avoid the risk of infection:

  1. Get your ears pierced by a professional artist or doctor. They use sterilized and high-quality equipment and keep their work area very clean.
  2. Confirm that your earrings have been sterilized before they are placed in.
  3. Clean your ears twice a day with a recommended saline solution.
  4. Avoid turning and twisting your jewelry.
  5. Do not remove your earrings before the piercing has healed.
  6. Sanitize or wash your hands with soap before touching your piercing. Avoid touching your ears as much as possible.

Ear piercings deal you a hand of pain in exchange for being able to wear a lifetime of cute earrings. Not a bad deal, right? Well, unfortunately, that is not the case for all of us. Some people may get an ear piercing infection that can be very painful. The infection slows down the healing period of the skin. You can tell a piercing is infected if it appears red and swollen and is accompanied by a fever. If you can recognize an infection in the initial days, you can easily treat the pierced skin in a few simple steps such as cleansing the area with a saline solution or applying a recommended healing ointment. You can even avoid piercing infections if you follow some precautionary measures. Nonetheless, if you experience a severe infection or home treatment does not yield results within 2 days, make sure to visit a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will my new ear piercing take to heal?

A new ear piercing can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 months to heal completely depending on the exact piercing location.

What is the best antibiotic ointment for ear piercing infection?

Antibiotic creams like Neosporin or Bacitracin are considered best for treating an ear-piercing infection.

Should I remove the earring if my ear piercing is infected?

It is not necessary to remove the earring in the case of a mild infection. However, if there is severe pain, swelling, pus discharge, or fever, it is wise to promptly visit your healthcare provider and let them remove it.

How soon after getting a piercing can the ear become infected?

An ear piercing can get infected within 3-7 days of the piercing.

Key Takeaways

  • Ear piercing infection is a fairly common skin infection that occurs due to unhygienic surroundings during piercing or improper aftercare.
  • An infected ear piercing looks red and swollen and can lead to pus discharge and fever.
  • Minor infections can be treated at home with saline solution and an antibiotic ointment.
  • An infection can be prevented by going to a professional piercer and following aftercare instructions.

If you are looking for some more expert advice on how to recognize and treat an ear piercing, you will get all that information in this video from a medical professional. Check it out now!

Personal Experience: Source


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  1. Comparison Between Cartilage And Soft Tissue Ear Piercing Complications
  2. Body Piercing Infections
  3. Ear-Piercing Complications In Children And Adolescents
  4. Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infection Of Both Ear Lobules Occurring Concomitantly In A Set Of Twins Following Non-Aseptic Ear Piercing: A Case Report
  5. Infected Transcartilaginous Ear Piercings. A Case Report And Review Of The Literature
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