Got an Infected Ear Piercing? Here's What to Do

You just got your ears pierced and you are excited to show it off to your family and friends. After a few hours, your ear starts to feel a little tender and starts looking more red than normal. You start to wonder to yourself: Do I have an infection on my ear piercing site?

What Causes an Infected Ear Piercing?

An infected ear piercing is caused by bacteria, usually from the hands of the person who pierced the ear or the person taking care of the piercing, entering and growing at the piercing site.

This can happen when the piercing is done improperly with unclean tools and needles or when the person taking care of the piercing does not keep the area clean. Bacteria can also enter the piercing site if the person is wearing earrings that are too tight or if the person is using products like hair spray or perfume that can irritate the area.

While infections at the ear piercing site are not a common occurrence, the chances of you developing an infection grow exponentially when you ignore your piercer’s instructions.

Make sure to note when the piercer says you can remove your earrings for new ones, which is typically six weeks for a piercing in the earlobe. For piercings that go through the cartilage, you should expect double the healing time at twelve weeks. Removing your earrings early can introduce bacteria to the open areas on the skin, raising your risk of infection.

Other things that can cause an infection include swimming in a pool or lake, using a dirty towel to clean the area, or not cleaning the piercing and jewelry properly.

Related: How to Choose the Right Earrings for Your Face Shape

How Do I Know That I Have an Infection?

The signs and symptoms that may show up when you have an infection in your piercing site can vary from person to person. Common signs and symptoms include redness and swelling, pain, warmth or tenderness, discharge of pus or a yellowish fluid, and a bad smell from the infected area.

Redness and swelling are usually the first signs that your piercing may have an infection. The area may become swollen and inflamed, and the skin around the piercing may become red and tender.

Pain can be another often-seen symptom of an infected ear piercing. The area may be tender to the touch and may cause pain when pressure is applied to the site.

Warmth and tenderness are also hallmark signs that you have an infection at your piercing site. The area may feel warm to the touch and may be very tender.

Discharge of pus or a yellowish fluid is another symptom of an infected ear piercing. This discharge may have a foul odor and may contain blood.

If there is a foul smell from the infected area, that is also a sign of an infected piercing. The area may smell bad, and the smell may become worse when the infected area is cleaned.

Can it be an Allergic Reaction?

Although the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction can be easily mistaken for those of an infection and vice versa, there are ways to tell them apart.

The most noticeable symptom that will differ in allergic reactions is that the affected area will be itchy and can resemble a rash. In a more severe allergic reaction, a blister may form.

Related: How To Tell if You’re Allergic to Jewelry

It's Infected, What Do I Do Now?

At home, pain relievers that are available without a prescription can be taken to reduce any discomfort. It is important to avoid touching the infected area, as this can spread bacteria and worsen the infection.

To prevent further infection, the earring should be removed, and the area should be cleaned. A solution of warm water, salt, and antibacterial soap can be used to clean the area. This should be done twice a day until the infection has cleared. 

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If the infection does not improve, a doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic cream. This should be applied to the infected area, following the instructions provided.

It is important to avoid swimming and wearing tight-fitting clothing while treating an infected ear piercing. This helps to minimize the risk of further infection. It is also important to wait at least a month before re-piercing the ear, as the area will need time to heal.

7 Steps You Can Take to Prevent Ear Piercing Infections!

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a proverb that rings true in the case of ear piercings. It is better to take the time to take care of it than to have to get it taken care of. 

  1. Make sure to visit a professional piercer. Do your research and find a piercer that has a good reputation, is reputable, and uses sterile equipment.
  1. Clean the area before and after piercing. Before the piercing, make sure to clean the area with an antiseptic solution such as rubbing alcohol. After the piercing, rinse the area with warm water and soap.

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  1. Keep the area clean. After piercing, keep the area clean and dry. Avoid getting the piercing wet or touching it with dirty hands.
  1. Change the jewelry regularly. Change the jewelry in your piercing every few weeks to prevent infection. Make sure to use jewelry that is made of medical-grade materials.
  1. Avoid swimming and contact sports. Avoid activities that could cause the jewelry to get caught in the skin, such as swimming and contact sports.

Related: What Are The Best Ways To Clean My Earrings?

  1. Avoid using lotions and creams. Lotions and creams can trap bacteria in the skin, so it’s best to avoid using them until the piercing is healed. 
  1. Watch for signs of infection. If any redness, swelling, pain, or discharge develops around the piercing, contact your doctor immediately.