Body Piercing

How to Treat an Infected Ear Piercing

Ear piercings are a great way to express yourself, but sometimes they come with unwanted side effects, like an infection. If you think you have an ear infection, the first thing you should do is contact your doctor for advice. Keep the piercing clean at home to help promote a speedy recovery. Piercings in the cartilage of your ear are particularly prone to serious infection and disfiguring scars, so in these cases it is especially important to see your doctor immediately if you suspect an infection.[ While the piercing is healing, make sure that you don’t injure or irritate the site of the infection. In a few weeks, your ears should be back to normal.

Part One of Three:
Seeking Medical Treatment

  1. Go to the doctor as soon as you suspect an infection. Serious complications can result from an untreated ear infection. If your ear is sore, red, or oozing pus, make an appointment with your primary care physician.[
    • An infected ear piercing may be red or swollen around the site. It may feel sore, throbbing, or warm to the touch.
    • Any discharge or pus from a piercing should be checked out by a doctor. The pus may be yellow or white in color.
    • If you have a fever, see a doctor immediately. This is a much more serious sign of infection.
    • Infections usually develop within 2-4 weeks after the initial piercing, although it is possible to develop an infection even years after getting your ears pierced.[
  2. Leave the piercing in the ear unless otherwise told by your doctor. Removing the piercing can interfere with healing or cause an abscess to form. Instead, leave the piercing in your ear until you see your doctor.[
    • Avoid touching, twisting, or playing with the earring while it is still in your ear.
    • Your doctor will tell you if you can leave the piercing in or not. If your doctor decides that you need to remove the piercing, they will remove it for you. Do not put earrings back into your ear until you have your doctor’s approval.
  3. Apply an antibiotic cream to minor earlobe infections. Your doctor may prescribe a cream or recommend an over-the-counter brand. Apply this to the infected site according to your doctor’s instructions.
    • Some over-the-counter ointments or creams you can use include Neosporin, bacitracin, or Polysporin.
  4. Take prescription pills for more serious infections. If you have a fever or if your infection is severe, your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic pill instead. Take the pill according to your doctor’s instructions. Remember to take the full course of antibiotics, even if your infection seems to go away.
    • Pills are usually needed if you have a cartilage piercing that has become infected.
  5. Get an abscess drained if it has formed. An abscess is a wound with a large build-up of pus. If you have an abscess, your doctor will drain the wound. This is an outpatient procedure that may be done on the same day as your first visit.
    • Your doctor may apply a warm compress to your ear to drain the abscess or they may make an incision in the abscess.
  6. Undergo surgery to remove severe cartilage infections. Cartilage piercings are riskier than earlobe piercings. If your cartilage piercing becomes infected, see your doctor as soon as possible. Severe cartilage piercings may require surgical removal of the cartilage.
    • The cartilage is the thicker tissue in the upper portion of the outer ear, located above the earlobe.Advertisement

Part Two of Three:
Using Home Remedies

  1. Wash your hands before handling the infected area. Your hands can spread dirt or bacteria that might worsen your infection. Before cleaning or treating the area, wash your hands using warm water and antibacterial soap.
  2. Remove pus from around the ear with a cotton swab. Moisten the tip of the swab with antibacterial soap or a saline solution. Gently remove any liquid or soft pus with the swab. Do not remove any crust or scabs, however, as these will help your ear heal.
    • Throw the swab away when you are done. If both ears are infected, use a different swab for each ear.
  3. Clean the infected area with a saline solution. To make a saline solution, mix 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) of salt into a 1 cup (237 ml) of warm water. Dab a sterile cotton ball or gauze into the solution and gently sweep it over both sides of the ear at the site of the piercing. Do this twice a day to keep the area clean.
    • The area may sting slightly when you use the solution. It shouldn’t be very painful, however. If it is, call your doctor.
    • Avoid using rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based solutions on the infected area, as these can irritate the area and delay healing.
    • Gently pat the area dry afterwards with a paper towel, tissue, or cotton swab. Avoid using a towel, as it might irritate the ear.
    • If both ears are infected, use a different swab or gauze for each ear.
  4. Apply a warm compress to your ear to help relieve pain. Soak a washcloth in warm water or a warm saline solution. Press the cloth over your ear for 3-4 minutes. Repeat as needed for pain relief throughout the day.
    • Afterwards, dry your ear gently by patting it down with a paper towel or tissue.
  5. Take an over-the-counter painkiller to manage the pain. Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce the pain temporarily. Take the medicine according to the instructions on the label of the bottle.

Part Three of Three:
Protecting Your Ear

  1. Stop touching the ear or piercing unless necessary. If you are not cleaning the wound or removing the piercing, don’t touch your ear. Avoid using clothing or devices too close to your infected ear as well.
    • Don’t wear headphones until your infection heals.
    • Avoid using a phone on the infected side of your head. If both ears are infected, put the phone on speakerphone to use it.
    • If you have long hair, keep your hair up in a bun or ponytail so that it doesn’t hang by your ears.
    • Avoid sleeping on the infected ear if possible. Keep your bed sheets and pillow cases clean to avoid spreading the infection.
  2. Avoid swimming until both the piercing and the infection heal. Generally, you should not swim for 6 weeks after getting your piercing. If your piercing has become infected, wait until the infection has healed completely and the piercing itself has healed.
  3. Wear hypoallergenic jewelry if you have a nickel sensitivity. In some cases, your doctor may diagnose you with a nickel allergy instead of an infection. In this case, start wearing earrings made out of sterling silver, gold, surgical steel, or another nickel-free material. These are less likely to cause a reaction.[
    • Allergies may appear as dry, red, or itchy skin around the site of the piercing.
    • Continuing to wear nickel jewelry if you have an allergy can increase your risk of reinfection.

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