Cartilage Piercing Bumps - Causes & Treatments Guide
You go into the shop, excited about a new cartilage piercing, and everything is great for a while. Then, when your healing period is close to the end, you notice that you have a big bump on the front or back of your ear. What’s the deal?
These cartilage piercing bumps are extremely common, but you can do something to reduce the size of the bump.
After all, you chose to get your piercing so it could look good, and a large knot on the back of your ear probably isn’t what you were going for. Not to mention they make it difficult to put in and remove an earring. The best thing to do is keep your hands off the bump, don’t try to squeeze it, and read this guide.
What Are Cartilage Piercing Bumps?
There are actually two different kinds of cartilage piercing bumps. One kind is a reaction from your body that results in scarring. With a keloid scar, your body generates extra collagen, forming the bump on the back of your ear. These types of scars can be surprising because they often pop up well after the initial piercing.
A more serious type of cartilage piercing bump is an infection that results in bubbling of the cartilage. If you're experiencing a cartilage piercing bump for the first time, you may not know whether you have a scar or an infection, but there are a few ways you can tell the difference.
An infection will look red and be hot or painful when touched. It may also leak pus or blood. A keloid piercing bump should not present these symptoms.
Either one of these cartilage piercing bumps can show up long after you get your cartilage pierced. However, keloid scarring is less likely to happen soon after the piercing, whereas an infection usually occurs within the first 2 weeks. You may also have a type of temporary scarring, called hypertrophic scarring.
What Causes Cartilage Piercing Bumps?
An infected bump on the cartilage is caused by bacteria that enters the piercing. This bacteria may come from improperly sterilized piercing equipment, or it can be the result of touching your piercing with dirty hands, sleeping on your piercing, or letting others touch your piercing.
This is why it's so important to choose an experienced and professional piercer to perform the procedure, even if it ends up costing you slightly more.
Keeping anything that touches your ear clean and sterile (including pillows and bed sheets) will substantially reduce the risk of infection.
Another potential cause of an infected piercing is using jewelry made with materials that you're allergic to. Many people are allergic to nickel and metal alloys. An alloy is simply a metal made from a combination of different metals, and they often contain cheap metals that are irritating to the skin.
When the metal irritates the skin, an infection is more likely to take hold, due to weakened defences around the area. Stainless steel and gold are two of the metals that are least likely to irritate skin and lead to infection.
Keloid scarring, on the other hand, is not the result of a bacterial infection. It is instead caused by excess collagen forming, but it is unknown why this happens for some cartilage piercings and not others. It is partly a matter of how your body deals with the trauma of having the cartilage pierced.
If you're genetically prone to forming keloids, then having the piercing performed using a piercing gun instead of a needle, or not performing proper aftercare rituals increases your chance of producing a keloid bump. Without treatment, keloid bumps are permanent.
Finally, remember that you can develop more than one bump at a single time. Therefore, if you get a double cartilage piercing for example, you could go on to develop two bumps instead of just one (although this isn't always the case).
How To Get Rid Of Cartilage Piercing Bumps
Getting rid of your cartilage piercing bump, of course, depends on which type of bump you have. For infected piercings, you need to treat the cause of the infection, which is bacteria in the piercing hole. For new piercings, leave the jewelry in, but be vigilant and keep a close eye.
Rinse The Piercing
You should be rinsing your new piercing with saline daily anyway, but if you haven't been, and an infection sets in, it's definitely time to start.
It's the best and easiest way to keep bacteria spread under control around the piercing (along with not touching the area). Once your piercing has completely healed, you can stop the daily saline use.
At this point, proper piercing hygiene will mainly consist of changing out the jewelry occasionally, and cleaning it before putting it back in your ear.
Applying a warm compress with salt water can also help to speed up healing and reduce pain and swelling. You can also use a chamomile tea bag as a warm compress because the chamomile has natural healing properties.
Alternating with a cold compress can help increase blood supply to the cartilage, which tends not to get a lot of blood flow. The increased blood supply brings more of your natural antibodies to the area to help fight the infection.
Apply Topical Treatments
You may also want to try an antibacterial spray like Bactine or Neosporin spray, but avoid certain ointments that can prevent the infection from draining as well. You can reduce inflammation by crushing an aspirin tablet and mixing it with just enough water to form a paste, which can be applied to the bump.
If you prefer natural treatments, tea tree oil also has antibacterial properties and can be mixed with coconut oil or another natural oil, and be applied to the piercing bump.
My Favorite Piercing Aftercare Product
The best piercing aftercare product I've ever had the pleasure of using up to this point is the H2Ocean Piercing Aftercare Spray.
Not only is every single ingredient completely natural, but the spray works brilliantly on all skin types (including sensitive skin) and comes in a very generously sized can.
Many users of the spray advise that when using it from the very start of the healing process, it appears to decrease healing times and helps to reduce any lingering pain/soreness.
Read more about the H2Ocean Piercing Spray here. Have a quick look at some of the customer reviews and you'll see why it's one of the most popular piercing sprays on the market.
Know When To Visit A Doctor
In the case that the infection has spread beyond the piercing hole, you will need to see a doctor to determine if the issue is indeed a bacterial infection. From here, they will be able to prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of the infection and prevent further damage to the cartilage and surrounding tissue.
Be aware, however, that ear cartilage does not respond well to antibiotics, and you may need a stronger than usual prescription. This is because there is very little blood flow to this part of the ear, meaning less antibiotics reaching the site of infection.
Generally, cartilage scarring does not go away on its own, (unless it's the temporary kind of hypertrophic scarring). It's hard to tell the difference between hypertrophic scarring and keloid formation, but hypertrophic scars show up soon after the initial piercing and don't spread into surrounding tissue.
You can try salt water compresses or tea tree oil for these temporary scars. The best way to heal a hypertrophic scar is with a silicone gel scar treatment that can be applied topically.
Piercing bumps that are not caused by infection and do not respond to hypertrophic scar treatment are likely to be keloids, and will need to be treated by a doctor. Keloid bumps may be treatable using steroids, lancing, or surgery.
Jewelry will need to be removed during treatment, which means you may have to wait and have the area re-pierced if the hole closes up.
Will Cartilage Piercing Bumps Cause Long-Term Damage?
If you have an infection in your cartilage piercing, you can end up with long-term damage and deformity to your ear cartilage, especially if you do not treat it promptly. With proper care and treatment, however, your ear should return to normal with time.
So yes, long-term damage is possible, but it's improbable. In the most severe cases, the jewelry will need to be removed and re-added once everything has healed, but sometimes you may be asked to leave the earring in place to keep the piercing open and promote drainage of the infection.
For those prone to keloid scarring, the resulting piercing bump can be removed with a small surgical procedure, but it's possible that a bump will regrow if you pierce the same area again.
How To Prevent Cartilage Piercing Bumps
You can help to prevent cartilage piercing bumps from forming by deciding to have the procedure done at a professional body piercing shop. Ensure you go to a place that specializes in piercings, and remember that using piercing guns is a bad choice for cartilage piercings; instead, always choose to have a needle rather than the piercing gun if you can.
While many non-specialized places will be happy to complete the procedure, many will not tell you that a piercing gun can easily distort the tough cartilage in your ear, which makes a bump more likely to form.
As for bumps caused by infection, good hygiene is absolutely the best prevention. Keep your hands away from your piercing, especially if you haven't washed them recently.
Keep hair pulled back away from the piercing while it heals, and clean the piercing daily with a saline solution. You can buy saline or make your own with salt and warm water. This is a gentle way to keep the area clean and sanitized without drying out your skin too much.
Both types of cartilage piercing bumps are less likely to form if you go to a professional body piercer and follow the aftercare instructions they provide. Keep your piercing healthy and looking good by:
- Keeping your hands off.
- Telling other people not to touch.
- Changing your pillow cases and bed sheets often.
- Cleaning the piercing with a saline solution daily.
- Wearing only quality jewelry made from stainless steel, gold, or other hypoallergenic metals.
- Using topical treatments at the first sign of problems.
Here's to a perfect, bump-less cartilage piercing!