Ear Piercing Infections – Causes & Treatments
Ear piercings are everywhere. Some babies have their ears pierced these days, in addition to every other age group. It’s commonplace and a simple procedure that carries a low risk. However, infected ear piercings are a real possibility if you're not careful.
Even though many people skate through an ear piercing with no problems whatsoever, others aren’t as lucky. Infections are a common problem for any piercing, even one as routine as an ear piercing.
Because it’s so safe, when you have it done, you don’t expect for there to be any problems. But sometimes when you least expect it, things can go wrong.
Infections aren’t fun, but keep in mind most of them are only temporary until you get them properly treated. It may suck for a while, but you’ll come out the other side of the infection in no time by following the great advice presented within this article.
What Is An Ear Piercing infection?
An ear piercing infection is when a simple ear piercing takes a drastic turn for the worse. In an ear piercing infection, a harmful organism sets up shop in your piercing hole and starts causing problems that lead to a variety of symptoms.
Generally, an ear piercing infection occurs no differently than any other kind of skin infection. The infection occurs due to bacteria getting into the open wound and killing healthy cells throughout the area, causing nasty visible symptoms and delaying future healing until the infection is eradicated.
What Causes Ear Piercing Infections?
When you get your ears pierced, a hollow needle creates a hole in your ear, which allows the jewelry to be inserted. Unfortunately, jewelry isn’t the only thing that can make its way into that hole. Dirt, germs, and bacteria can too, and the end effect isn’t nearly as pretty as the jewelry is.
When bacteria get trapped in that small hole the piercer has created, it can have a hard time making its way out of there. If you neglect to do your ear piercing cleaning, it is even less likely to exit that spot.
When the bacteria get in there, it begins to multiply. One thing leads to another and before long, you’ll have a whole team of bacteria in there causing problems. When it gets to that point, you’ll begin to see and feel the signs of infection.
Although piercing infections can happen to anybody, the cleaner you can keep the area around your piercing, the less likely you are to have any problems.
This is why it's so important to follow a good, robust piercing aftercare routine which includes frequently applying an appropriate saline solution, or specialized piercing aftercare product to the area multiple times a day to the area has completely finished healing.
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.
Is My Ear Piercing Infected? - Signs & Symptoms Of Ear Piercing Infections
You may think discovering an infection would be easy to do. After all, you’re going to be constantly looking in the mirror to admire your new piercing. If anything was truly wrong, surely you would notice it, right?
But before you start patting yourself on your back, you need to understand that an infection isn’t always so obvious, especially when you’re partially in denial.
People never expect to be one of the minority who will experience complications after having a procedure done. Most people tend to think they’ll sail right through something as simple and ordinary as an ear piercing. But the reality is that some people will end up with infections so you have to be vigilant about them.
Before you dismiss certain warning signs as a normal part of the ear piercing process, you need to clearly understand what you can expect after having your ears pierced and what you shouldn’t expect to see.
Here are some common infection symptoms you should be on the lookout for. But you also have to keep in mind that just because you have one or some of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an infection. It could just be a side effect of the piercing procedure.
Ear piercings aren’t known for being a high source of pain. If kids can tolerate having it done, you should be able to too. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any pain involved in having your ears pierced. They can hurt or be sore for the first couple of days if you’re having your earlobes done.
If you’re having a helix piercing done, which is a piercing on the upper part of the ear that is mostly cartilage, it’s going to hurt a little more. The procedure itself won’t be painful since cartilage doesn’t have nerve endings like skin does. But it can hurt afterward and you should understand that that’s perfectly fine.
The real problem is when you notice the pain is increasing every day or if it becomes much worse than you think it should be for an ear piercing. While the pain of an ear piercing will be uncomfortable, it shouldn’t feel overwhelming. If it does, there may be some sort of underlying condition causing that.
If you’re having a lot of pain, think back to when it first started. Did you do anything to cause an increased level of pain? Were you playing any contact sports that resulted in your piercing being tugged or pulled? Did you sleep on it, which could account for the increased pain? Did you snag it with your hairbrush when you were getting ready for work?
If you can’t think back to any kind of injury that could cause the increased pain, you need to keep a possible infection in the back of your mind as you look for any other symptoms.
Redness is one of the vaguest symptoms of a possible infection because lots of things can cause redness. Even having the piercing done causes redness so it can be really difficult to tell when the redness is a normal part of the procedure or when it means trouble is on the way.
As you would with the pain, think back to anything that you might have done to cause additional redness. Even sleeping on the same side as the ear you’ve had pierced can cause redness the next day. So seeing redness isn’t an automatic harbinger of doom, but it is worth noting so you can try to pinpoint the cause.
If it has been more than a week since your ear piercing, the redness shouldn’t be as bad as it was in the early days. So if you’re on week two of your piercing and the redness seems to be getting worse, you should keep a close eye on things. If you have some of the other symptoms in addition to redness, your odds of having an infection goes up.
This is another symptom that can be hard to decipher. Some swelling is to be expected after an ear piercing. You’ve just traumatized your skin or your cartilage, depending upon which location you’ve had pierced. So it’s understandable that there will be some slight swelling in the first few days.
If the swelling looks like you’re sprouting another body part off of your ear though, that’s a bit much. If it’s dramatic swelling like that, something else is likely going on.
If swelling becomes a real problem for you, you can always try wrapping an ice pack in a cloth and holding it on your ear for a few minutes. That can help with any pain you’re experiencing, but it can also relieve that swelling. Once the swelling comes down, you may be able to better assess the situation.
If the swollen area feels really hot when you touch it and is also accompanied by a lot of redness, you should be on high alert for a possible infection.
One of the biggest indicators of an infection is if there is a lot of discharge coming out of the piercing site and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
A little pus or discharge is normal after a piercing. You may see discharge for several days and possibly even a week. But if it continues past that, or if it seems to be slowing down before becoming a real problem again, you may have an infection.
So any increasing amounts of pus would be a reason for concern. But if the amount seems to stay the same but it changes in color and is no longer clear or whitish, that can spell out an infection too.
The final thing to watch out for regarding pus is how it smells. Normally, you shouldn’t notice much of a smell at all with healthy discharge. If you’re starting to wince a little because the pus smells bad, you may want to consider calling your doctor.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry when you’re dealing with an infection. It stinks to spend the money to visit your doctor if it turns out you don’t actually have an infection. But it would be even worse to skip the trip to the doctor to save yourself some money when you do have an infection.
Of all the possible infection symptoms, you should fear this one the most. If you have a fever, that means the infection has spread beyond the site of your piercing. A simple local skin infection won’t cause a fever. This is a systematic (full-body) symptom.
When you end up with a fever because of an infection, home treatment isn’t the right thing to do. You need to book a doctor’s appointment. Tell him about your recent piercing and show him your ear piercing.
He’ll likely want to know when it was pierced and how long the symptoms have been going on. Let him know if things have seemed to be getting better or worse in the last day or two.
To be on the safe side, your doctor will likely give you an antibiotic prescription. That should stop the fever within a couple days. Even if you start feeling better, make sure to continue taking your prescription until it’s gone.
Watch out for any signs of the infection returning within a couple days of finishing your course of medicine. That’s unlikely to happen, but you should be cautious just in case.
How To Treat An Infected Ear Piercing
If there is no fever present and the infection seems to be mild and isn’t causing you too much pain, you can try to treat it at home. This is especially true if the piercing site is on the ear lobe.
But if the infection is from a helix piercing on the cartilage, you should seek medical attention. When you get an infection there, it can be harder to self-treat. It’s best if you just head into the doctor to cover your bases instead.
But if the piercing was on the earlobe, try treatment at home first before going to the doctor – unless the pain is so bad you just want to throw in the towel.
To treat a minor infection on your own, you should make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you touch the piercing site. You don’t want to introduce any more dirt, germs or bacteria into the fold.
Then you’ll want to prepare a salt water solution to apply to the infection. To do this, you’ll take one-fourth of a teaspoon of sea salt and mix it well with one cup of boiling water. Let the water cool so you don’t scald yourself. While the water is still warm, you can use your fingers to apply the salt water to the front and the back of the piercing site.
If you have a medicine dropper, you can bend over the sink, fill up the medicine dropper and give your piercing a good squirt with the liquid.
Although you may use cotton balls and Q-tips to apply the liquid as well, you do have to make sure you aren’t leaving any cotton fibers behind that may get trapped in your piercing.
When your piercing has been thoroughly cleaned and it comes time to dry the area off, you shouldn’t reach for your bath towel. There are two reasons those are off limits.
The towels might already have germs on them, especially if they aren’t fresh out of the dryer. The second reason for avoiding using towels is the same reason you might not want to use cotton balls and Q-tips – the cotton fibers you can leave behind.
Instead of bath towels, you should use clean, dry paper towels when you need to dry your ears. Since they are single use, they have less chance of being contaminated when you’re using them.
You should make sure to clean the infected area twice a day with the sea salt solution. You should space out the cleanings as best as you can. A good goal to shoot for is doing it once in the evening and once in the morning.
Even though life can get busy and it can be hard to carve out extra time in your busy schedule, you can’t allow yourself to skip cleaning the infected area. If you do, you’ll be fighting it for far longer than you’ll want to and you will risk it spreading beyond the piercing site.
It only takes a few minutes to give it a proper cleaning so make a commitment to doing it. It’s for your own good.
You may be tempted to rub other topical ingredients onto your infected area, like rubbing alcohol, antibiotic creams or hydrogen peroxide. You shouldn’t add those items though. They may be too drying or irritating for the skin. That can put the brakes on any healing that is occurring.
Another thing you might be tempted to do is to take your piercing out. You may think this will help drain the pus out of the wound quicker. But that’s a big mistake.
If you take out the piercing, the hole will rapidly close up, perhaps before your infection clears up. If that happens, the infection will be trapped inside with nowhere to go. It’s always best to give it a route to drain out, so the ideal thing to do is to leave your piercing in.
If you find self-care isn’t making a dent in the infection after a couple of days or if a fever develops during this time, you may want to enlist the help of a doctor.
As you wait for your infection to clear up, it can be tempting to try anything that might make your ear less red and more attractive looking. But there’s really not much you can, or should, do.
You don’t want to put any make-up on your earlobe to hide the hideousness of the infection. That can make things worse because you’re introducing one more product to your already irritated skin.
Although it can be difficult, you should just let it be. If you have long hair, wear it down for a few days until the infection is gone. If you have short hair, you’ll just have to tough it out appearance wise.
What Happens After A Ear Piercing Infection?
Having an ear piercing infection is an eye-opening experience. You’ll want to watch out for future infections because you know that they are a real possibility for you now. It’s not something that just happens to other people – you know you’re susceptible too.
Knowing you’ve had an infection can make you slightly paranoid because you may feel like you’re constantly waiting for the next one.
But the good news is that just because you’ve had one infection, it doesn’t automatically mean another one is headed your way. You know more than you did before and knowledge will give you the know-how to keep those infections away.
Try looking at the bright side instead of dwelling on your infection. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger after all, and if you do end up with another infection, you’ll know exactly how to recognize it and what to do about it. The ball is now in your court.
How To Prevent Ear Piercing Infections In The Future
Sometimes infections occur and you never figure out why. But most of the time, there’s a smoking gun that tips us off as to why things went south and an infection ended up setting in.
If you know you were lax about following the basic aftercare hygiene instructions your piercer gave you, you know what went wrong the first time. Following a good ear piercing care routine is your best bet for dodging any future infections.
You should always remember to wash your hands because that is one of the best ways to prevent any more infections down the road.
Being careful not to injure your piercing site is another great way to keep your piercing infection free. Damaged or injured skin allows bacteria in. It gives them an open door to start doing their damage.
If you go back for additional piercings on your ear, you should look for a reputable piercer to do the work. You’ll want to hire someone who has high standards for hygiene and isn’t afraid to show you exactly how he meets this standard.
A few minutes of questioning your potential piercer can often give you big clues about whether he’s the best choice to do the work. If he can’t show you packaged sterile hollow needles, you should have serious doubts about whether his equipment is sterile in the first place.
Since you’ll be setting yourself up for an infection if your piercer doesn’t follow the best safety standards, you shouldn’t even consider hiring someone you have doubts about.
One other thing you can do to ward off future infections is to make sure you’re using a type of metal in your jewelry that won’t cause an allergic reaction. While allergic reactions don’t cause infections, they can make you more likely to get them.
With an allergic reaction, your skin is in a constant state of irritation.
If your skin is irritated, itchy or burning because of the reaction, you’re going to be scratching and rubbing it. That can cause injury to your skin which can allow bad bacteria in, which could ultimately lead to an infection. Or your hands might not be clean when you go to scratch your skin that’s irritated by an allergic reaction – you might introduce harmful bacteria that way.
Now that you know a little more about infections, it may cushion the blow if you learn you have one. The main thing to do is to take a deep breath and avoid panicking.
With some time and the right care, you’ll be over your infection in no time and things will go back to normal. Your ear may temporarily look and feel a bit gross, but the good thing is that many infections are usually short-lived and minor.