Treating an Infected Ear Piercing

Ear piercings are quite common among children and adults. Most new piercings take a few weeks to heal. If the piercing is in the earlobe, it heals quickly. A cartilage piercing takes longer to heal because there is less blood flow in this area.

With a new ear piercing, irritation is normal. If the area is not cleaned properly and bacteria get into the wound, it can become infected. If the infection is mild, over-the-counter medication will do. If the infection is more severe, a healthcare professional can help treat the infection.

Learn more about issues that can arise from ear piercings and how to prevent and treat them.

ear piercing

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Earlobe Infection

The earlobe is a fleshy area with a lot of blood flow. When the ear is pierced, it takes about six weeks to fully heal.

It is important to care for the newly pierced ear as instructed by the ear-piercing professional. Slight irritation is normal. Infection can happen and will clear up if it is mild. If the area does become infected, call a healthcare professional. Symptoms of infection include:

  • Extreme redness
  • Bleeding
  • Yellow discharge
  • The earring being stuck in the ear

Cartilage Infection

Ear piercing in the cartilage area is a popular option. Auricular cartilage is located at the top of the ear, and it does not have blood vessels or nerve cells. Due to this fact, the piercing takes a longer time to heal. In addition, infection can cause more complex issues beyond fever, bleeding, and swelling.

With infection of the cartilage, perichondritis—an infection of the skin tissue that surrounds the cartilage—is possible. If it is left untreated, a systemic infection could develop and affect the whole body.

An infection in the cartilage from ear piercing can become serious. Call a healthcare professional immediately if there are any signs of infection in this area.

Allergic Reaction

There are times that an ear piercing shows the signs of infection but it's an allergic reaction. This is common with a number of people. Nickel earrings can cause a possible allergic reaction.

When it comes to ear piercing, the symptoms are typically a dry, scaly red rash and extreme itchiness.

If this happens, a healthcare provider can prescribe medication to help with the allergic reaction. 

Can an Old Ear Piercing Still Get Infected?

An old ear piercing can get infected. It is important to keep the area clean. The following situations can lead to an infection of an old piercing:

  • Touching earrings with dirty hands
  • Putting the posts of earrings in at the wrong angle
  • Not cleaning posts and earrings daily
  • Wearing heavy earrings that could cause a scratch or tear in the ear channel
  • If the post or back of an earring has nickel, this can cause an allergic reaction.

Causes and Risk Factors

It is important to be extra careful when handling a new piercing. If bacteria get into a new
piercing, it can cause infection. Other causes include:

  • Removing the earrings before the piercing heals
  • Touching the ears with dirty hands
  • Putting your head in a pool, river, lake, or hot tub before the piercing is healed
  • Forgetting to clean the new piercings twice daily as recommended by a professional
  • Getting the ears pierced with equipment that is not sterilized or in a place that is not properly cleaned or set up for ear piercing

Treatment

If the ear is infected from an earlobe piercing, clean around the area and take your time cleaning and rotating the earring. If the infection doesn’t heal or is getting worse, call a healthcare professional. If there is an infected cartilage piercing, contact your healthcare provider so they can determine the severity of the infection and treat it.

There are a few treatment options that will help the healing process of an infected ear piercing:

  • If the infection is severe, oral antibiotics could be prescribed.
  • Rinse the infected area with sterile saline.
  • Use an antibiotic ointment on the area that is affected.
  • Put a warm compress on the infected cartilage or earlobe.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider:

  • Pain and swelling in the cartilage or earlobe
  • Discharge or yellow pus from the area of the piercing
  • Fever or chills
  • The area of the piercing is red and swollen
  • The earring or clasp is embedded in the ear or stuck in the earlobe
  • Swelling and redness has spread beyond the area of the earring

Prevention

Infection as a result of ear piercing is not a great experience. Prevention is important. The following tips may help avoid an ear piercing infection:

  • Wash your hands before touching a newly pierced ear, earlobe, or cartilage.
  • Rinse the piercing with cleanser or mild soap twice daily.
  • Rotate the earrings after applying a lubrication ointment to the piercing.
  • Don’t remove the earrings until the piercings fully heal.
  • Put an antibiotic ointment or rubbing alcohol on the pierced area twice daily.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you treat an infected ear piercing without it closing?

You can treat an infected ear piercing without it closing in the following ways:

  • Rinse the infected area with sterile saline.
  • Use an antibiotic ointment on the area that is affected.
  • Put a warm compress on the infected cartilage or earlobe.

How do you know if your ear piercing is infected?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider:

  • Pain and swelling in the cartilage or earlobe
  • Discharge or yellow pus from the area of the piercing
  • Fever or chills
  • The area of the piercing is red and swollen
  • The earring or clasp is embedded in the ear or stuck in the earlobe
  • Swelling and redness have spread beyond the area of the earring

How do you clean an infected ear piercing?

If the ear is infected from an earlobe piercing, clean around the area and take your time cleaning and rotating the earring. If the infection doesn’t heal or is getting worse, call a healthcare professional. If there is an infection in the cartilage area from piercing, contact your healthcare provider so they can determine the severity of the infection and treat it.

Should I take out my earring if it’s infected?

Discuss with your healthcare professional whether the earring needs to be removed.

What happens if you don’t treat an infected ear piercing?

If a piercing is untreated, the infection can become more severe. If a cartilage infection is left untreated, an abscess could develop. This infection may then spread to other areas of the body.

A Word From Verywell

Ear piercings are very common. It is important to follow the instructions during the healing process and continue to use best practices to prevent infection or other issues. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your healthcare provider.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Infected ear piercing.

  2. MedlinePlus. Perichondritis. May 4, 2021.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Are your earrings or body piercings causing a nickel allergy? Updated July 27, 2018.

  4. Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ear piercing symptoms. Updated March 11, 2021.