The Risks of Getting Your Ears Pierced

Pierced ears

Reece Omadeli/EyeEm/Getty Images

There are various ways that people use external factors to individualize themselves within society, from hairstyles and clothing to tattoos. When it comes to piercings, according to a 2018 survey, 83% of Americans have their ears pierced.

Aside from ear piercings, the other most common places that are pierced include eyebrows, genitals, lip, navel, nipple, nose, and tongue. Because this is so commonly performed, there are many standards in place to help minimize complications, however, there are some dangers of getting your ears pierced.

Potential Risks

While ear piercings are very common, it does involve some serious risks. The most common (albeit all are relatively uncommon) include:

  • Abscess
  • Allergic reaction
  • Perichondritis
  • Embedded earrings
  • Infection
  • Keloid scarring
  • Traumatic tearing

If proper hygiene isn't followed, your risk of infection increases. You should carefully clean your ears as directed and wash your hands before touching your new piercings or changing the earrings.

Symptoms of infection include redness and irritation at the site, oozing of pus or fluid, (especially if it has a foul odor), fever, and decreased blood pressure in very severe cases.

If the infection is localized to the ear, it's called perichondritis, or auricular perichondritis. However, if severe enough, the infection can sometimes enter the bloodstream. This is called sepsis and, though the risk of it is low, it can develop into a deadly condition called septic shock.

The risk of infection is greater when the ear cartilage, as opposed to the earlobe, is pierced. As cartilage has less blood flow, making it difficult for infection-fighting white blood cells to arrive at the site of infection and do their job.

Treatments

If you do have complications after having your ears pierced some of the following treatments may be warranted. It's always best to consult with a physician before starting a specific treatment for complications related to ear piercing.

  • Abscesses and infections related to pierced ears usually will respond to an oral antibiotic.
  • Superficial skin infections can best be treated with a topical antibiotic.
  • Embedded earrings are usually caused by using spring-loaded guns. Surgical removal of the earring is commonly necessary, but only requires local anesthesia and a small incision.
  • Allergic reactions are usually caused by certain metals, like nickel. Avoid metals that you have allergies to, and use topical steroids to help recover from the allergic reaction faster.
  • Keloid scarring generally will require surgical removal, corticosteroid injections, or radiation/laser therapy.
  • Traumatic tearing from an earring may be repaired by simply suturing the ear (for simple tears) or more extensive surgical repair for severe tears.

When the earring needs to be removed for various reasons, you may request to have a 20-gauge Teflon catheter ring put into the hole to keep it patent while your ear heals.

If the hole closes, you should wait three months and have the earring placed in a different spot where there is no scar tissue formed.

Choosing the Best Place to Get Your Ears Pierced

Not all places that perform body piercings are created equal. Be sure to investigate any place you're considering for ear or body piercings. Here are some quick tips for finding a good place:

  • Go to a place that does not allow smoking or alcohol within the premises.
  • Look for places that pass the "eye-ball" cleanliness test. Dirty environments are more prone to have higher infection rates.
  • Ask if you can watch them do a piercing. You should see that they wash their hands and then glove prior to performing the piercing.
  • Do not go to a place that soaks needles. You should look for a place that disposes of needles in a sharps container and uses an autoclave for other reusable equipment.
  • Avoid piercing shops that use ear-piercing guns, even on earlobes. The best places will not use these devices due to potential complications.
Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Environmental Health Association. Policy statement on ear piercing guns. 2018.

  2. Purim KS, Rosario BA, Rosario CS, Guimarães AT. Piercings in medical students and their effects on the skin. An Bras Dermatol. 2014;89(6):905-10. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142878

  3. Ranga N, Jeffery AJ. Body piercing with fatal consequences. BMJ Case Rep. 2011. doi:10.1136/bcr.05.2010.3020

  4. Perry AW, Sosin M. Reconstruction of ear deformity from post-piercing perichondritis. Arch Plast Surg. 2014;41(5):609-12. doi:10.5999/aps.2014.41.5.609

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. What kids should know about getting piercing done safely.

Additional Reading

  • Goicochea E. Body piercing and health complications among college students in Puerto Rico. Walden UniversityWalden University ScholarWorks; 2017:20.