Industrial Piercing Infections: Symptoms & Treatment
If you’ve recently gotten an industrial piercing and it feels sore or doesn’t look quite right to you, you may be wondering if it’s infected.
Industrial piercing infections are fairly common complications, and, fortunately, they can be treated successfully most of the time. You can take steps to prevent infections from returning or even from developing in the first place.
An industrial piercing is a cartilage piercing that enters and exits the ear through two separate points. A bar-shaped piece of jewelry is then inserted to connect the two piercings. Industrial piercings are more prone to infection because there are 2 wounds, and the tension placed on the skin from the jewelry also increases inflammation and vulnerability to the skin.
An infection occurs when harmful bacteria build up in one or both of the holes where your ear is pierced. Bacteria are always present on your skin and in your body, but certain circumstances can cause excessive bacterial overgrowth and prohibit your body from regulating it normally.
Most of the time, if one of the holes gets infected, it’s likely that the other will get infected also.
Signs & Symptoms Of An Infection
So you know what might cause industrial piercing infections, but how do you know if your piercing is actually infected? Look for these signs and symptoms.
In cases of severe infection, the swelling and inflammation may spread beyond the original piercing to the rest of the ear cartilage. If this happens, you need to get to a doctor right away for antibiotic treatment. Do not remove the jewelry.
Clear discharge is normal during the healing period. It comes from your lymph glands and is not a sign of infection.
What Causes Industrial Piercing Infections?
A variety of circumstances may cause your industrial piercing to get infected. Here are the most common reasons.
Unsanitary piercing conditions
Most professional body piercing studios follow strict hygiene standards to prevent their customers from getting infections. When you go in to get pierced, make sure your piercer washes their hands and wears gloves. They should also disinfect the area to be pierced on your ear and use a new, sterile piercing needle.
Handling the piercing too much
The first rule of piercings is to keep your hands off them. Every time you touch your industrial piercing, you are potentially irritating it and adding noxious bacteria to the area from your hands. If you have to handle the piercing or jewelry, wash your hands first.
Injuring the piercing
If you catch your jewelry on clothing or something else or get hit in the ear, the irritation can make your industrial piercing inflamed and more susceptible to an infection.
You can also get an infected industrial piercing years after your piercing is healed because injuries to the area can create tiny ruptures in the piercing that let bacteria in. Even sleeping on the piercing can cause irritation and potentially set off an infection.
Using cheap metal or other sometimes acrylic jewelry can lead to infection. It depends on how sensitive you are to those materials.
Many people are allergic to metal alloys or particular metals, and an allergic reaction weakens the immune system and increases the chance of infection.
Itching an ear that is having a reaction will also lead to infection because you are creating tiny cuts and filling them with bacteria from your fingernails.
Acrylic is not the best material for piercings because it is more likely to hold onto and harbor bacteria than metal jewelry.
You must continue to clean your industrial piercing until it has completely finished healing.
Continue to use a salt water solution, or a good piercing aftercare product right until the skin in/around the piercing has completely healed.
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.
If your industrial piercing gets infected, you treat it in the same way you would any infected cartilage piercing. The first step is to soak the piercing in saline solution, or sea salt water.
In fact, saline or sea salt soaks should be something you are using for aftercare from the first day you get your industrial piercing.
For normal aftercare, you only need to soak your piercing about twice per day. Just squirt the saline onto the piercing holes and the surrounding area, or put the saline or sea salt water into a small bowl or cup and tilt your head so that your ear is submerged. However, when you have an infection, you should increase the soaks to about 4 times per day.
To make your own sea salt soak, dissolve ¼ teaspoon of fine sea salt into 1 cup of warm water.
Avoid using harsh disinfectants like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because they can further irritate your ears, damage healing cells, and delay healing. Also, don’t use antibiotic ointments that prevent your piercing from draining, which it needs to do. If it doesn’t drain, the bacteria gets trapped in the cartilage and can spread.
You can also try a few drops of tea tree oil mixed with coconut oil. Apply this to the area of your industrial piercing with a cotton swab to soothe the inflammation and heal the infection faster.
Avoid applying tea tree oil directly to the area as this may cause dermatitis – diluting it will minimize this risk and maximize the natural antimicrobial properties of tea tree oil.
As long as you follow treatment recommendations, the infection should clear up. You may be left with a cartilage bump on one or both holes for a while. Continue following the aftercare routine until the piercing is fully healed and the bumps have resolved.
Try a Warm Compress
Applying a warm compress to the area can help promote healing by calming inflammation and reducing irritation, which will in turn assist in alleviating swelling and easing pain.
To make your own warm compress, put a clean, damp towel or cloth in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time to ensure it doesn’t get dangerously hot.
There are also plenty of pre-made compresses available to buy that contain herbal mixtures and rice grains to help maintain warmth and help with swelling relief.
If you wish, you can add these items to your homemade compress, too. Just be sure to seal the towel/cloth well so none of the ingredients fall out.
To use a warm compress:
- If you’ve made a compress, put it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time. Repeat until the compress is appropriately warm, but not too hot.
- If you’re using a store-bought compress, heat it as directed on the product labeling.
- Apply the compress to the infected piercing area for up to 20 minutes at a time, twice per day if possible.
You can also use two compresses at the same time, or fold your compress over to ensure you’re treating both sides of the piercing. Alternatively, you can just keep switching between the two sides.
How To Prevent Industrial Piercing Infections In The Future
There are some easy steps you can take to keep yourself from going through the pain of industrial piercing infection again.
Industrial piercings take a long time to heal, and that makes them susceptible to inflammation and infections.
However, an industrial piercing infection can be treated at home with simple sea salt soaks if you catch it early. You just need to keep your piercing clean, avoid harsh cleansers, and keep hands and other objects off your piercing until it has completely healed.