Cartilage Piercing Bump: Causes & Treatment

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 9, 2018
    Last Updated: October 27, 2021

You walked into the shop, excited about your new piercing, and everything is great for a while. Then, when the healing process is close to the end, you notice a big bump on the front or back of your ear. What’s the deal?

These cartilage piercing bumps are extremely common, and thankfully, there are things you can do to reduce the size of these bumps in many cases.

After all, you got this piercing because you imagined it would look great, 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 to keep your hands off the bump, don’t try to squeeze it, and read this guide.

What Is A Cartilage Piercing Bump?

There are actually two different kinds of bumps that can commonly appear around the cartilage piercing site. One cause is an overreaction from your body that results in excessive scar tissue formation. With this 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 many months after the initial piercing.

A more serious type of cartilage lump is an infection that results in bubbling of the cartilage. If you’re experiencing a cartilage 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.

Cartilage Piercing Bump

Either one of these types of bumps can show up around the piercing long after the healing process has finished. 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 milder and sometimes temporary scarring, called hypertrophic scarring.

Main Causes

An infected bump on the cartilage is caused by bacteria that enters the piercing wound. 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 it.

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 hats, pillows and bedsheets) 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. Also, note that anything less than 24 karat gold contains some nickel, so avoid this if you develop a nickel allergy.

When the metal irritates the skin, an infection is more likely to take hold, due to weakened defenses around the area. Stainless steel and platinum 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 around the piercing area, 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 getting the piercing.

If you’re genetically prone to forming keloids, it may be wise to avoid any trauma to your skin, including piercings. However, if you insist on getting a piercing then having it 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 the one (although this isn’t always the case).​

When To Seek Medical Attention

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, which results in fewer antibiotics reaching the site of infection.

Tragus Piercing Bump

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. They maintain the shape of the scar and don’t overgrow it.

You can try saltwater compresses or tea tree oil for these temporary scars. A simple way to heal a hypertrophic scar is by using a silicone gel scar treatment that can be applied topically.  Your dermatologist might recommend massage techniques to soften the scar tissue.

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 Board Certified Dermatologist. Getting rid of keloids can be possible 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.


Getting rid of your 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.

1. Rinse The Piercing

You should be rinsing your new piercing with a saline solution/sea salt soak 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.

2. Reduce Inflammation

Applying a warm compress with a sea salt solution 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.

3. 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.

If you prefer natural treatments, tea tree oil also has antibacterial properties and can be mixed with coconut oil or jojoba oil, and be applied to the piercing bump.

The best aftercare product I’ve personally used is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan, but it’s also completely alcohol and additive-free. The solution works well on all skin types including sensitive skin, and it comes in a generously-sized mist-spraying bottle for easy application. When using it from the very start of the healing process, the spray helps to decrease healing times and aims to eliminate any lingering pain or soreness.​

While there are several home remedies which could be useful at soothing and reducing a cartilage piercing swelling, they can be quite hit-and-miss, and may not work at all for some people.

However, below are a couple of my favorite piercing bump natural treatments for you to go ahead and try should you wish:

4. Chamomile Compress

Chamomile contains many great healing properties and can help to speed up the rate of repair around your piercing wound.

The simplest way of preparing chamomile for your piercing is by buying it in a tea bag. Soak the bag in half a cup of lukewarm water for about five minutes. Once the water has drawn out the chamomile from the bag, use a cotton ball to soak some of it up and press it against the bump for 8-10 minutes.

5. Diluted Tea Tree Application

Tea tree is similar to chamomile in that it also has some great healing properties. Not only is tea tree antimicrobial and antiseptic in nature, but it’s also great at reducing inflammation around a piercing and soothing the area.

Using a q-tip, it’s best to gently dab a small amount of diluted tea tree around your piercing bump to help reduce any aggravation that’s occurring within the wound.

You must be careful, however, as tea tree can produce irritating skin reactions in a small number of people, and for this reason, you should always perform a patch test before applying it directly to your cartilage bump by placing a small amount of diluted tea tree onto your forearm and checking after 24 hours to make sure that no skin irritation or redness has occurred. If not, then you should be safe to apply it to your piercing.

Will Cartilage 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.

One way to cause long term damage to the area is by trying to pop a cartilage piercing bump. Don’t do this as it could increase chances of infection, or even cause retaliation from the area, resulting in an even bigger bump appearing later on.


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 a 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 and damage 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 away
  • Telling other people not to touch
  • ​Changing your pillowcases 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
Related Ear Piercing Articles