“Is my ear piercing infected?” - It’s a question every piercing studio is familiar with. Identifying an infection is often difficult, especially if it’s your first piercing. Many of the symptoms of an infection are similar to the side effects of a new piercing.
Put your mind and ears at ease with this handy guide. We take a look at:
- How to identify infection
- How to treat infection
- How to avoid infection
How To Identify An Ear Piercing Infection
Identifying an ear piercing infection comes down to two factors. The first is recognizing the symptoms of infection. The second is differentiating between infection and the expected effects of a new piercing.
Piercing Infection Symptoms
An infected piercing is usually accompanied by one or more symptoms. These are a few of the most common infection symptoms:
- Fluid Discharge/Pus
- Fever/Chills/Upset Stomach
Redness around the piercing is one of the early signs of an infection. A bit of pink or redness is not immediate cause for concern. But it’s worth keeping an eye on. If it spreads or turns a deeper red, there’s a possibility of infection.A good tip for monitoring is to take a picture with your phone. Compare this picture over the next 1-2 days to see if there are any significant changes.
Is it infected?
For a new piercing, a bit of redness is expected within the first couple days. After this time the redness should start to fade or disappear completely. The timeline can vary a little from one person to the next.Persistent or worsening redness, however, is a likely sign of infection.
Your body recognizes the piercing as an injury, so it reacts the same way. As a result, some swelling is normal for piercings. But you should still monitor any swelling.If swelling occurs again after the initial swelling goes away it is a likely sign of infection. Swelling accompanied by other symptoms, like redness or tenderness is a likely sign of infection.
Is it infected?
When you get a new piercing, you can expect a bit of swelling. Generally, this only lasts for about 2 days. Within this timeframe even having some redness or tenderness does not necessarily mean infection.If, however, after a couple of days the swelling doesn’t show signs of improvement, or starts to get worse, infection if likely.
Tenderness or Pain
If your ear piercing is tender or painful to the touch it may be a sign of infection. The level of pain can range from mild to acute. This can vary by individual person, piercing location, or by infection. Generally, persistent pain is a more accurate indicator of infection than the level of pain. That being said, severe pain should be addressed immediately.In some cases, the area around the piercing may feel hot to the touch. A warm or hot piercing is a probable symptom of infection.
Is it infected?
Much like redness and swelling, pain - especially tenderness - is most common within the first 2 days of a new ear piercing. However, it is not unusual for piercings to be painful or tender to the touch within the first 2 weeks.During these first couple weeks, the piercing is more sensitive and prone to soreness if it is slept on or touched frequently. Severe pain should be addressed immediately.
Tears or Lacerations
A healthy ear piercing should not have any tearing or lacerations around the piercing hole. They are usually a result of, or accompanied by, other infection symptoms.
Is it infected?
There is a high likelihood of infection with tears or lacerations around the piercing hole. However, there are a couple other potential causes. The first is the jewellery being pulled or catching on things. A ring or dangling piercing is a likely candidate for this.The second is from the piercing process itself. Inexperienced piercers will often use piercing guns. These are imprecise tools that can pull or cause damage around the piercing. For this reason, the best piercing artists use needles instead of a piercing gun.
Fluid Discharge or Pus
Keep an eye out for pus coming out of your ear piercing. Pus is identifiable by its thick discharge. This discharge is white, yellow, or green in colour.A foul smell accompanies usually the pus from an infected ear piercing. The smell is a result of the bacteria in the pus.
Is it infected?
A thick, pussy discharge with a foul odour is a near-certain sign of infection. Not all discharge is abnormal for a new piercing.Odourless, clear or lightly coloured fluid is simply lymph fluid. It’s normal for this fluid to drain from a new piercing. The fluid may crust around the piercing. On its own, this is no cause for alarm.
Fever, Chills, or Upset Stomach
Ear piercing infections can present themselves as fever, chills, or an upset stomach. In this case, we would recommend seeing a doctor especially if you’re experiencing other signs of infection or if your piercing is still in the healing process. Make sure to tell your doctor that you have a new piercing so they can determine whether or not this is the cause.
Is it infected?
These symptoms are pretty common outside of piercing infections. So there is a possibility that the timing is merely a coincidence. Consider your recent eating habits and any contact with sick people.Regardless of whether the infection is piercing related, it’s worth a trip to your health provider if the symptoms persist. Nobody likes being sick.
Also known as irritation bumps or hypertrophic scars, mystery bumps are commonly mistaken for infections. In actuality, they are results of irritation or allergy rather than an ear piercing infection.Check out our tips on identifying and eliminating ear piercing mystery bumps.
How to Treat Ear Piercing Infections
Treating ear piercing infections is tripartite:
- Eliminate the cause of infection
- Treat the symptoms
- Clean the piercing
Stop Touching It!
We know it’s tempting. You want to touch your new piercing, especially if it’s itchy. Frequent touching of a fresh piercing is the main cause of the three most common symptoms of infection - redness, swelling, and pain.It irritates the piercing, giving the false appearance of an infection. In fact, the irritation can also leave the ear piercing more prone to infection. So hands off!In addition to touching, here are a few other common sources of irritation:
- Hair or hat touching the piercing
- Sleeping on your piercing
- Loose fitting or non-hypoallergenic jewellery
Icing Your Piercing
Ice is the go-to solution for all sorts of injuries, and ear piercing infections are no exception. Wrap an ice pack with a paper towel and lightly press against the infected ear. This helps to alleviate the pain and reduce swelling.Ice should only be left on for a few minutes, and should not be directly applied to the ear. Your ears are sensitive and icing for too long can cause damage. Instead, you can do multiple short icing sessions throughout the day. It is best to wait at least 15 minutes between icings.
Over-The-Counter Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (After the first week)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil can help reduce fever, pain, and swelling. But the timing needs to be right. Avoid taking them for at least 24 hours before a piercing and for 7 days after the piercing. While they can alleviate the symptoms, they can also prevent proper healing if taken too soon after the piercing.For the first week after your piercing, you are better off using ice and salt or chamomile soaks.
Salt or Chamomile Soaks
A salt or chamomile soak serves a dual purpose. For one, it relieves the swelling, redness, and pain. Secondly, it helps to clean the infected piercing. A salt soak is generally more effective, but chamomile is better for sensitive skin. You can do as many chamomile soaks per day as desired, but only 2 salt soaks are recommended per day.How to make a soak:
- Boil 1 cup of water
- Add ¼ teaspoon of sea salt and stir until dissolved OR brew 1 chamomile tea bag
- Perform a salt soak by dipping a cotton pad into the solution and appling to the infection for 2 minutes
- For a chamomile soak, dip a cotton pad into the solution, or use the tea bag, and apply to the infection until it cools.
For both, you want to use hot water, but let it cool down enough that you won’t hurt or damage your skin before dipping the cotton pad.
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Keep Your Piercing Clean
Cleaning is one of the most important aspects of taking care of your piercings. Ear lobe piercings can take 6-8 weeks to fully heal, and ear cartilage piercing 4 months to a year. Follow proper aftercare throughout this period.Follow these steps to clean a mild ear piercing infection:
- Wash your hands
- Clean both sides of the piercing with a saline solution (sprays minimize irritation)
- Do not remove the piercing jewellery
- Repeat twice daily until the piercing heals
You can also benefit from a gentle, unscented glycerine soap in the shower. Use after washing your hair and body, this will allow it to wash away any soap or shampoo residue.If infection is suspected, never remove the jewellery until after the infection and piercing fully heal. removing the jewellery traps the infection inside. The skin can heal over the infection, preventing fluid from draining. This can lead to an abscess and a more severe infection.For a severe infection, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional. If needed, they can prescribe antibacterial medication.