A piercing is an open wound that requires time and care to heal. Cartilage piercings typically take longer to heal and are more prone to infection than earlobe piercings. Even when a person follows the aftercare instructions, infections may still occur.

An infected ear piercing can also develop years after a person got the original piercing. Usually, the infections are minor, and people can treat them at home without complications.

Touching the piercing too often with dirty hands or not cleaning the area can lead to infections. Also, earrings that are too tight may not allow the wound to breathe and heal.

In this article, learn about the symptoms of an infected ear piercing, as well as the treatment options, and how to prevent infections in the future.

Woman with a painful ear due to infected ear piercingShare on Pinterest
Swelling and tenderness around a piercing may be symptoms of an infected ear piercing.

Symptoms of an infected ear piercing include:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • pain
  • tenderness
  • burning
  • itching
  • yellow discharge

People can usually treat minor infections at home. Some infections are more difficult to manage than others and may need antibiotics.

Hospitalization is rare but may happen if a person has a severe infection in a cartilage piercing.

To care for minor infections, a person can take these steps:

  1. Wash the hands before touching, cleaning, or handling the earring.
  2. Clean the piercing site with sterile saline or distilled water combined with salt three times a day.
  3. Most healthcare and piercing professionals caution against using alcohol, antibiotic ointments, or hydrogen peroxide, as they can irritate the skin and slow healing.
  4. Do not remove the earring, as this may allow the hole to close and trap the infection.
  5. Always clean both sides of the earlobe and pat dry with a clean paper towel.

Continue this regiment until the piercing has healed completely.

It is best to see a doctor for treatment if:

  • the infection does not improve within a few days
  • there is a fever along with the infection
  • the infection spreads
  • the earring does not move
  • the earring becomes embedded in the skin

The first step to avoid infection is to go to a professional for a piercing rather than piercing the ear at home.

For piercings that are not on the earlobe, needles are safer than using a piercing gun. Hygiene is equally important for both piercing methods, and aftercare protocols are the same.

It is vital to follow the piercer’s aftercare instructions carefully. Clean the ears twice a day with sterile saline water or the rinse provided by the piercer.

Avoid playing with or excessively handling the earring. Be careful that it does not get caught in clothes when getting dressed.

A person may need to sleep on one side to avoid crushing the ear while it is healing.

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A person should seek medical attention if an infection does not improve or fever occurs. Image credit: James Heilman, 2016

The symptoms of infections in old piercings are the same as in new ones.

To treat an infection in an old piercing, people should clean the earring and both sides of the ear with saline solution, and handing it with clean hands.

If the infection does not improve, spreads, or fever occurs, a person should seek medical attention.

If signs or symptoms of infection happen often, people should consider buying only hypoallergenic jewelry, as they may be reacting to the earrings.

If a new piercing is infected, it is best not to remove the earring. Removing the piercing can allow the wound to close, trapping the infection within the skin. For this reason, it is advisable not to remove an earring from an infected ear unless advised by a doctor or professional piercer.

Once the wound has healed — usually after 2 to 3 months in the case of earlobe piercing or longer in cartilage piercings — a person can safely remove an earring.

When getting a new earring, it is crucial that people have this done by a professional piercer with excellent hygiene practices. Also, they must always follow the aftercare instructions carefully until the wound has healed.

Most infected ear piercings can be treated at home and will improve within a few days, although, in some cases, antibiotics may be necessary. If symptoms do not improve, the infection spreads, or there are other symptoms, a person should speak to a doctor.