Cartilage Piercing Swelling

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 15, 2019
    Last Updated: March 17, 2022

You’re stoked about your new piercing and can’t wait to show it off. A few days later it’s red, swollen and painful to the touch. What gives?

While some mild swelling is completely normal after getting cartilage piercing, extreme or prolonged swelling can be a cause for concern.

A swollen cartilage piercing may indicate:

  • Skin infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Skin conditions

What Is a Swollen Cartilage Piercing?

Swollen cartilage piercings aren’t as uncommon as you might think since a whopping 30 percent of them end up infected. 

Right after getting your cartilage pierced, you might notice a small bump, general redness, slight swelling, mild pain or some bleeding. This is normal — you just punctured a hole through your ear!

Cartilage is more likely to undergo complications from a piercing than soft tissue, such as the earlobe. Cartilaginous areas take longer to heal and are at higher risk for irritation and infection since there is reduced blood flow to the area. These parts of the ear get brushed with your hair more often and are more likely to get tugged on. The tragus area can also commonly swell quite badly at the start of the healing process.

What Causes a Swollen Cartilage Piercing?

Skin Infections

If redness, swelling and pain doesn’t subside after a few days or comes back after initially going away, it’s a sign of a skin infection. The presence of pus is a more immediate cause for concern.

A newly-pierced hole in your ear is raw and unprotected. This makes it easy for dangerous bacteria to sneak in. Once inside, they trigger your body’s immune system, which sends its little warriors to defend itself. This process results in inflammation. 

Most skin infections are confined to a small area, such as a scratch or cut, and go away on their own. However, infections that start small and aren’t taken seriously enough can begin to spread, and even become fatal in the most serious of cases.

Allergic Reactions

Ear jewelry is a common cause of allergic reactions, especially nickel. It’s a metal alloy that triggers dermatitis in about 10 percent of the population. This skin allergy is more common in women, although it could be because they tend to wear more jewelry. The more often you’re exposed to a foreign object, the more likely you are to develop an allergic reaction.

If you’re allergic to nickel, you’ll notice swelling, redness, itching and sometimes blisters.  An infection isn’t typically itchy and itching is more often correlated with an allergic reaction.

Pyogenic Granuloma and Keloids

Pyogenic granuloma is a common proliferation of the blood vessels. It can be caused by trauma, such as a piercing, or infection. You’ll notice a shiny red lump, and it can get very painful. Luckily, it’s benign.

Keloids appear as a raised scar that takes on a red, pink or purple color. They’re caused by an excess of protein in the skin that attempts to repair itself from damage. It can take up to a year after you got your piercing for them to show up. They, too, are benign but can cause pain and itching. They can also grow very large and unsightly.

These conditions are distinguishable from an infection or allergy, but might, at first glance, appear as swelling. They can both be surgically removed under local anesthesia, frozen off via cryotherapy, treated with lasers, or treated with an ointment in less severe cases.

General Irritation

Sometimes, what we think is an infection, is merely an irritation. As mentioned, it’s normal to experience symptoms of irritation right after getting your cartilage pierced. It includes redness, swelling, pain and bleeding. These are signs that the skin was subjected to abuse or trauma, and it’ll attempt to heal and protect itself.

It’s when these symptoms persist, return or worsen that you’ll need to seek medical attention to suss out any of the above-mentioned conditions.

How to Treat and Prevent Swollen Cartilage Piercings

Treatment is usually simple, and there are measures you can take to prevent it from happening altogether.

Take Care of Your Piercing

To prevent complications, adopt the following:

Wash Your Hands

Before touching your piercing or jewelry, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Remember to clean your nails, as well.

Clean the Wound

Use a fragrance-free, antimicrobial soap to form a lather over the wound and rub it gently with your hands. Do this two to three times a day until it’s completely healed.

Clean the Jewelry

Dip a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol or a particular piercing solution and clean your jewelry pieces. Repeat this twice a day until it’s healed, and continue doing this every week for as long as you keep the piercing. If it’s still too tender to remove, use a cotton bud to gently swipe the jewelry while it’s intact, avoiding touching the skin.


The chamomile leaf has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Soak a chamomile tea bag in warm water, drain it and rest it on the piercing for five to 10 minutes.

Tea Tree Oil

This oil is known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Dilute one or two drops in a glass of water and apply it directly to the piercing two times a day. Tea trea oil is so strong that if you don’t dilute it (with water or carrier oil), it may cause an allergic or irritant dermatitis to your skin.


Dilute a quarter teaspoon of salt in a cup of water and apply it directly to the piercing twice a day. Saline has shown to kill harmful bacteria, speeding up the healing process of a wound.

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.​

Don’t Fiddle

In simple terms, leave your piercing alone, unless you’re cleaning it. It can worsen symptoms of irritation, and bacteria from your hands can find a way in.

Keep Your Hair Away

If your hair is long enough to fall over your ear, tie it up until it’s healed. Hair contains oil, dirt, and numerous microbes that you don’t want near the wound.

Avoid Nickel

If you’re unsure whether you’re allergic or not, avoid jewelry composed of nickel. Watch out for pieces labeled as gold or silver, since, more often than not, it’s nickel that’s plated with gold or silver. Opt for nylon or plastic jewelry, stainless steel, titanium, niobium, or 24+ karat gold.

Safety Precautions

There’s the possibility that you obtain an infection due to unhygienic conditions in the parlor. Before going through with it, check the following:

  • Piercer: Only go to a piercer who’s experienced, period. Don’t attempt to do it yourself
  • Gloves: They have to wear gloves
  • Sterilized equipment: Ensure they use a heat-sterilization/autoclave machine with all non-disposable equipment. Not only can the lack thereof cause an infection, but you can also contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus and HIV. 

Seek Treatment

If you’ve already obtained a cartilage infection or skin condition, seek professional medical treatment. 

Infections will require antibiotics that are taken orally or contained in an ointment that you apply. If there’s a large amount of pus draining from the wound, you might need to be hospitalized.

The following symptoms indicate that the infection has spread and should urge you to see a doctor or go to the emergency room:

  • Discharge that’s yellow, green or grey, smelly or oozes in large volumes
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness


If you notice swelling in your cartilage after getting it pierced, don’t fret — it’s bound to happen. When the swelling persists, along with other symptoms, it’s best to seek professional treatment.

There are methods you can follow to prevent this from happening, however. As long as you stick to the proper hygiene and safety precautions, you’ll help to minimize the risks of future swelling and infection.

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