Swollen Ear Piercings: Causes & Treatment

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 16, 2019
    Last Updated: April 4, 2023

While you might be familiar with the traditional earlobe piercing and the popular cartilage piercing, you may be surprised that there are a lot more types of ear piercings out there.

These different piercings go through different tissues in your ear. Where the piercing is situated makes a difference in the potential severity of swelling around an ear-piercing. To make sure you know how to read any warning signs, find out what happens when your ear piercing is swelling.

Ear piercing swelling may be caused by:

  • Lifestyle
  • Allergies
  • Infection

Complications of an Ear Piercing

It’s normal for earrings to be inflamed, tender and red immediately after a new piercing, as your body adjusts to a puncture wound and a foreign object in the body. 

If these issues occur after the immediate post-piercing period, you have to look at the symptoms and lifestyle factors to determine how severe the problem might be. 

Infections and allergic reactions are common problems associated with a piercing in the ear. The more serious complications usually happen the higher your piercing is — closer to the top of your ear. 

If your ear piercing is getting increasingly red, tender, numb, feels heated and is inflamed, you may be experiencing one of these reactions that aren’t normal:

  • Localized swelling due to lifestyle
  • Allergic reaction
  • Localized infection
  • Spreading infection
  • Abscess

Localized Swelling

Swelling around the piercing could be exacerbated by any number of more innocuous things:

  1. Tightness: Piercings that have the back on too tightly can cause a pinching of the ear in between the front and back of the earring. This can cause irritation and swelling
  2. Sleeping position: Sleeping on your jewelry can also lead to irritation. The pressure and friction on the ear all night long may bother it and lead to pain or inflammation
  3. Impact: If you’ve been hit on your ear, maybe while playing sports, this may also inflame the pierced area

Allergic Reaction

The metal used in the jewelry of your piercing might be making a significant impact on your reaction. Jewelry for piercings are usually made of:

  • Stainless steel 
  • Gold
  • Niobium
  • Titanium 
  • Alloys

Stainless steel is usually best for minimizing allergic reactions. Niobium and titanium rarely create allergic skin reactions. You have to keep your eyes peeled for nickel in any of the metals to make a stronger alloy because nickel can cause an intense sensitivity. 

Localized Infection

If the swelling is localized to the site of an earlobe piercing, you can treat it at home, like a localized infection:

  • Wash: Always wash your hands before touching the piercing
  • Cleanse: Cleanse the piercing regularly with a solution containing benzalkonium chloride or peroxide. Make sure to dilute these chemicals as they kill bacteria and newly forming cells if too harsh 
  • Gauze: Use fresh dressing to clean the jewelry
  • Rotate: Rotate the earring (if possible) while cleaning
  • Ointment: Apply a topical antibiotic ointment daily
  • Product-free: Keep the area free of hairspray, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, etc. 
  • Mobile phone: Clean your phone regularly and hold it away from an infected or newly pierced earring
  • Clean bedding: Change and clean your pillowcase

An infection in cartilage is more severe and is cause to seek medical attention. 

Cartilage complications are challenging to treat because the tissue doesn’t have blood vessels. Infections are usually treated with intravenous or IV medication, so getting ahead of a cartilage infection is essential.

Spreading Infection

If the swelling appears to spread from the piercing to other parts of the ear, potentially causing redness and inflammation to the whole ear, then you should seek medical attention. Signs of a spreading infection are serious and need to be dealt with swiftly. 

If an infection in the ear gets so severe, it can require surgery and potentially cause deformity. A deformity of the ear may affect the ability to hear and could result in loss or impairment of hearing.


A minor infection can turn into a deeper infection in the ear and, in extreme cases, could lead to an abscess. An abscess is a pocket of pus that develops within body tissues and needs to be dealt with immediately.

To identify an abscess:

  • Swelling: You may see a smooth swelling near your ear piercing that would be painful to touch. The area around the abscess would be warm and red
  • Pus: You may even see white or yellow pus gathering under the skin. Discharge from an abscess will not drain out anywhere but is instead encapsulated in the skin
  • Fever: An abscess is usually accompanied by a fever or chills 

Once an abscess forms, surgical incision and drainage are usually necessary. Delaying treatment could lead to deformity and further health complications. 

How to Reduce Ear Piercing Swelling

First and foremost, if you’re experiencing the more severe signs of an infection, you need to see a doctor right away. For anything else, here are a few ways to reduce minor swelling:

  • Apply an ice pack to your ear until you feel the pain subside
  • Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin
  • Clean your piercing with a mild, fragrance-free soap
  • Make a saline soak by mixing warm water with sea salt, soaking a cotton ball in the solution, and holding it onto your ear.

Be sure to clean your piercing often to avoid infection. It’s also recommended to perform a sea salt soak a few times a week for an extra flush, especially if the piercing is new.


The swelling of a new ear piercing is to be expected. If you’re experiencing inflammation in the days following a piercing, don’t start worrying — there can be some simple reasons for this. Your piercing may be taking a longer time to heal if you’re lying on it at night, or it’s clasped too tightly.

If you notice that the swelling is spreading or that an infection is in the cartilage piercing, seek medical help. These types of infections can result in deformity or hearing impairment.

If you want to ensure your piercing heals the best it possibly can, it’s imperative that you follow your piercer’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality aftercare solution to aid recovery.

The best piercing aftercare product I’ve ever had the pleasure of using up to this point is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan-friendly, 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.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.

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