The tragus is a small pointed area of cartilage on the inner side of the external ear. Situated in front of the entrance to the ear, it partly covers the passage to the organs of hearing.
The tragus is a favorite place to get an ear piercing, and while it can look great, this type of piercing can easily become infected if it is not cared for properly.
Tragus is also the name of the hair that grows in the ears.
Fast facts on infected tragus piercings:
- When a person gets a piercing, they essentially have an open wound.
- Infections develop when viruses, bacteria, fungi, or other microbes enter a person's body.
- Treatment options vary according to the severity of the infection.
Any piercing results in an open wound, which can take around 6 to 8 weeks to heal.
However, cartilage piercings, such as the tragus, can take much longer.
Many of the symptoms of infection appear as a result of the body's natural defense system trying to fight it off.
There are many reasons why an infection might develop:
- Hygiene: Touching the wound with hands or instruments that are not clean and sterile may transfer bacteria to the piercing, which can lead to an infection.
- Lack of oxygen: Earrings that have been put on too tightly and have not left enough room for the wound to breathe can also lead to an infection.
- Over-touching: An infection can develop if an earring is rough, causing a person to touch it constantly, or if a person does not treat the piercing carefully.
- Hair: Hair that hangs down can also make an ear piercing more susceptible to infection as the area is exposed to more bacteria. Long hair can also get caught in the piercing, irritate the wound, prevent it from healing, and increase the risk of infection.
- Healing time: The longer a piercing takes to heal, the more prone it is to infection.
A person who has had their tragus pierced should keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of an infection so that it can be treated and managed. To identify an infection, a person needs to know what to expect after a tragus piercing.
For around 2 weeks, it is typical to experience:
- throbbing and discomfort around the area
- heat radiating from the area
- clear or light yellow seepage from the wound
These are all typical symptoms of the body beginning to heal the wound. Although it can sometimes take around 8 weeks for the wound to fully heal, these symptoms should not last more than 2 weeks.
Infection may be present if a person experiences:
- swelling that does not go down after 48 hours
- heat or warmth that does not go away or gets more intense
- inflammation and redness that does not disappear after 2 weeks
- intense pain
- excessive bleeding
- yellow or dark pus seeping from the wound, particularly pus that gives off an unpleasant door
- a bump which can appear either at the front or back of the piercing site
If anyone suspects that they may have an infection, they should talk to a healthcare professional.
Some infections may require a prescription from a doctor. Common treatment options are:
- oral antibiotics
- topical antibiotics
- topical steroids
Once treated, piercings typically heal fully.
Make sure that the piercing studio is reputable, licensed and follows good hygiene practices.
Avoid touching the piercing
Only touch your piercing when necessary after thoroughly washing hands with antibacterial soap. Do not remove or change the jewelry until the piercing has fully healed.
Clean the piercing
Clean the piercing regularly using a saline solution. Most piercers will provide information on how to properly clean the piercing after they have done it.
Avoid products that may irritate the wound
Products that may irritate the piercing wound include:
- some ear care solutions
- rubbing alcohol
- hydrogen peroxide
Also, avoid the following ointments, which can create a barrier over the wound site, preventing proper air circulation:
Apply a warm compress
A warm compress can be very soothing on a new piercing and can help reduce redness and swelling and encourage the wound to heal faster. A clean towel soaked in warm water can be helpful.
Alternatively, making a warm compress from chamomile tea bags can be very effective.
Use an antibacterial cream
Applying a mild antibacterial cream can help kill off the bacteria that cause infection.
Keep sheets clean
Make sure to change bed sheets regularly. This will reduce the number of bacteria that can come into contact with the ear while sleeping. Try to sleep on the side that is not pierced, so the wound does not press into sheets and pillows.
Do not aggravate the wound site
Keep hair tied back so it cannot get caught in the piercing and be careful when dressing or brushing hair.
Baths, swimming pools, and even long showers can all increase the risk of infection.
While the wound is healing it is best to avoid drugs, alcohol and smoking all of which can increase the healing time. Paying close attention to personal hygiene and following good hygiene practices will also minimize the risk of infection and help the piercing to heal faster.
Most ear piercing infections can be treated if caught early and properly managed. However, if left untreated, it is possible for an infection to become severe and enter the bloodstream. Infections near the head and brain can be particularly dangerous.
Sepsis is a potentially deadly condition that must be treated quickly.
Symptoms of sepsis and septic shock include:
- a high temperature or low body temperature
- chills and shivering
- an unusually fast heartbeat
- breathlessness or very fast breathing
- feeling dizzy or faint
- confusion or disorientation
- diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- slurred speech
- extreme muscle pain
- unusually low urine production
- cold, clammy, and pale or mottled skin
- loss of consciousness
If any of the above symptoms occur after having a tragus piercing, seek medical attention immediately.