If you are intending to have piercings in your ears, you need to ensure it is done carefully to avoid instances of infections. This is a common problem that affects mostly children and teenagers although it can also affect older people.
Although most people take it lightly, it is a serious problem that should not be ignored. Do you remember the dailymail.co.uk coverage in 2013, on a school girl, Destiny Nickson, 11 years old, who was forced to miss school due to a seriously her pierced wear was seriously infected? Antibiotics did not work, she had to be admitted, stitched up and scarring might be part of her life forever.
Symptoms and signs
A valid question you could ask is “how do you know when your ear piercing is infected?” The answer is simple, check out on the symptoms i.e. you are certainly going to know you have such an infection by looking at some symptoms that can never miss. Some the common signs and symptoms to check for include:
- Tenderness on the pierced site, kids might complain of this tenderness.
- Swelling around the site that persists 48 hours after a new piercing.
- Bleeding in extreme cases, especially for new ones.
- Discharges that include pus that might be yellow or your piercing might “secrete thick, green, smelly pus” [livestrong.com].
- A bump on earlobes that could be white or red.
- Fever especially in children
- Stuck jewelry i.e. you will be unable to rotate them.
These are not the only signs or symptoms you might have. There are many others to check out for. By the way, your ears are very important. The moment you notice anything abnormal with your piercings, do not ignore them. Do not be like most people who tend to wait until pus starts oozing out before they begin looking for treatment options.
Other signs and symptoms that are less common include scarring, nausea, boils, over cleaning psychological problem among others.
How does an infected one look like?
To help you visualize how piercings that infected look like, we have included a few photos in this post as well as the ones below.
You have seen the above images, we hope they will help you in knowing if you truly have an infection you recently pierced or even if you did it them a long time ago.
Causes for new and old piercing
While looking at what could be behind this infection, we will take into consideration two aspects, i.e. we will look at causes on a new as well as an old one.
A. New one
This section covers the common causes for a fresh or new piercing. In terms of timelines, “in most cases, the infection will appear a few days after the piercing” [aboutkidshealth.ca] and you will experience some of the symptoms we have already mentioned above.
Some of the common causes, in both children and adults, include the following:
- Using piercing equipment that is not sterilized
- Inserting unsterile posts [childrenshealthnetwork.org]
- Touching them or the area around them with dirty hands.
- Wearing tight earrings especially when either the clasp closes tightly or they have a short post. This affects normal blood flow making you vulnerable to infections.
- Bad quality jewelry (inexpensive) e.g the ones that have a rough post tend to scratch your piercing channel or hole as you wear them. This might make you end up with an infected earring hole as well as other general infections.
- Inserting earrings without a mirror might make it get hurt as it is still recovering.
- Allergic reactions to the materials of the posts especially nickel which is known to cause allergic reactions as well as an itchy feeling.
- Injuries caused by jewelry especially if inserted at a wrong angle by kids.
For new piercings, here are some tips that can be very important in ensuring you do not catch an infection in the first place.
- Do not touch them with dirty hands.
- Always go to a professional who uses sterilized equipment. Doing it locally at home assisted by your friends who might not understand the need for sterilized equipment is a major cause of infections.
- Use 14-carat initial post. It should either be stainless still or gold if you can afford gold. However, stainless still will still work well i.e. “For optimal results, Dr. Barton D. Schmitt recommends that earrings are made out of 14-carat gold or stainless steel and that the posts are inserted loosely, not tight against the ear” [everydayfamily.com]
- Avoid removing the host from your channel until six weeks are gone. According to American Academy of Dermatologists, it is advisable to “leave the earrings in your ears for six weeks or more – even at night. Removing this starter jewelry too early may cause the piercings to close”
- When clasping them, they should be loosely held.
- Avoid using rubbing alcohol when cleaning them as it interferes with the healing process. Go for any antiseptic that has benzalkonium chloride. Do this two times a day for the next 6 weeks.
- Ensure you rotate your posts at least thrice after the cleaning process is complete.
- Avoid swimming in a lake for the first two weeks since lakes are likely to have a lot of bacteria that can cause infections i.e. “swimming in a lake or ocean, which might contain unknown bacteria, for that two week” [parents.com]
If you religiously follow the above tips for 6 weeks, your piercing will be complete, and you will be free to change jewelry as often as you want. However, this does not mean you cannot get infected again. Our next part will cover ways how you to avoid infections on those that have been there for a long time.
B. Old ones
Sometimes, you can end up with an infection years later, after they have healed. This is what is commonly known as old ear piercings infections. Their causes are similar to the above with the only exception being caused that are related to the process. Even if they have completely healed, poor hygiene, bad earrings, allergic reactions to some materials used in making your jewelry can still result to infected ear piercings after years, from the time you had the process was complete.
For those who have been complaining about an old pierced ear infection or having an infection, year after the piercing was done, here are some of the important tips that can ensure you do not get this problem.
- Avoid touching them with dirty hands. It is a good idea not to develop the habit of touch them unless you are cleaning them. Still, clean your hands first.
- Always remove rings when you go to bed to avoid them being caught by your bedding. More importantly to allow fresh air circulation. This can help in reducing infection on hole or channel. However, this should not be done on a fresh piercing.
- Always clean your posts, earrings, and your lobes using rubbing alcohol.
- Ensure your mobile phones are telephones are clean since they too can host a lot of germs that might be behind your constant infections.
- Ensure any rough parts of your jewelry are polished or throw them away.
- Your jewelry clasps should be loosely attached to give room for free air circulation as well as avoid pressure on your earlobes.
- Avoid rings that dangle since they can easily tear your earlobe or cause injury which always requires cosmetic surgery to fix it.
- Do not wear any jewelry when washing hair, dancing, during sports, or if you deal with small kids as they will tend to touch or pull them.
These are some of the great ways to avoid infections to those that have completely healed.
Infections in babies, children toddler or infants
The signs of baby, toddler or infant infection are just the normal symptoms you will notice on anyone else who has an infection in their piercings. As we already have mentioned, you might see some “tenderness, a yellow discharge, redness, and some swelling” [childrenshealthnetwork.org].
Since children are young and it is impossible to stop them from touching the piercing, some of the important tips to avoid chances of a baby ear piercing infection include the following:
- Pierce your child’s ears after she or he is at least 4 years or older. Younger babies will tend to fidget with the piercings, remove them, and worse even swallow them. The ideal age is when the child is old enough to decide if they want the piercing or not.
- If your child often bleeds easily, do not pierce them since this can “form thick scars (keloids), or get staph skin infections” [childrenshealthnetwork.org].
Treatments, remedies, and healing
You now know the causes, signs, as well as some ways to prevent this problem for old, new and in children or babies. It is time to look at some of the ways on how to treat infected ear piercing. This is for people who already know they have infections.
1. Rubbing Alcohol
Whether it is an adult or toddler you are treating, rubbing alcohol is good for keeping infection at bay. Rubbing it on either side of earlobes twice a day will be a good home remedy that can actually treat this infection. Furthermore, you are expected to remove posts as well as jewelry to clean them using rubbing alcohol three times a day. This can only be done if the piercing had initially healed completely.
2. Antibiotics such as Neosporin
Another way to easily heal this problem is by the use antibiotic. These are just over-the-counter or non-description ointments and tropical cream such as Neosporin which you can apply on the earlobe as well as on the post after cleaning it with rubbing alcohol before you can replace them back. When the infection seems cleared, you should continue using this antibiotic ointment for about two to three days.
If any oral antibiotics were prescribed by a doctor to help in treatment, ensure you complete your doses. Antibiotic tablets are often recommended for severe infections.
If you have aching pain, it is advisable to always go for pain-relieving medications. “Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed” [uofmmedicalcenter.org]. If you suffer from GI bleeding, stomach ulcers or any kidney or liver disease, talk to your doctor first before using these medications.
4. Sea salt or saline solution home remedy
An easy infected ear piercing home remedy you could try is washing it with saline solution or sea salt solution. “You dissolve about (1/4 teaspoon of sea salt per egg cup or shot glass of warm water)\” [nhs.uk] and use it to clean in a similar way you did with rubbing alcohol.
If possible, when using this remedy, you can submerge your whole lope into the saline solution you just prepare to ensure it gets into the piercing channel.
5. Anti-bacterial soaps
For mild cases, you can heal them by washing them using an anti-bacterial soap. This method works best if it couple with any of the other treatments such as antibiotic ointments or rubbing alcohol after you are through with the cleaning part.
6. Warm compresses home remedy
To enhance blood flow to the affected area, it is recommended that you apply warm compresses on your earlobe for about 3 minutes, at least 3-4 times in a day. This will ensure increased blood flow to the affected site and will quicken the healing process.
7. Avoid hydrogen peroxide
There are sources that recommend the use of hydrogen peroxide to get rid of infections. We do not recommend its use since hydrogen peroxide not only kills any healing cells but also encourage crusting since it dries up the piercing site. Furthermore, using it might sting a lot.
How long does ear infection last
After treatment, if you follow the proper care, you expect the piercing to be healed within a duration of 1-2 weeks.
In case of a bump
Some people might suffer get bumps which are more common behind your earlobes or even the front side. Formation of bumps is more common for people who opt for cartilage piercing as opposed to earlobe ones
The reasons for having a bump are much or less the same as those of getting infected. When you get a bump after piercing, it could be a pointer that you have a “pathogen named Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa” [mrdoctor.org] or other bacterial infection, which if ignored, will form a permanent deformation.
1. Use tea tree oil
The most effective way to treat these bump infection is to use tea tree oil. It works magic compared to other treatments and home remedies proposed such as aspirin, chamomile tea as so forth.
2. Topical antibiotic gels and creams
Gels and creams have also been noted as good in dealing with bumps on any piercings in general.
Precaution: In case you notice a bump around the pierced site, it is good to see a doctor ascertain that you are not developing keloid scars which do not have a surefire means of treating them since all methods used including surgery cannot guarantee a recurrence of the same.
How to clean it
We have looked at the various treatment. Most of these treatments will ensure you get healed fast. One more very important thing you need to know is how to clean an infected ear piercing. However, cleaning is not an alternative to treatment.
To clarify, the steps we will cover here can also be used on those that are still new.
- Thoroughly wash your hands before you touch any site of your piercing, whether infected or not.
- Prepare a sea salt solution by mixing an adequate amount of sea salt, about 2 teaspoons in warm water. If you have a serious infection, you can use rubbing alcohol in cleaning your earlobes or any other piercing solution you might have been given.
- Using a cotton ball soaked with the solution you just prepared, slowly and gently wash the upper and inner side of your earlobes. A little twisting, back and forth movements will do well.
- To ensure you clean the area as close to your piercing site as possible. It is advisable to use an earbud to clean as close to the piercing site as possible.
- Rotate your posts at least three times after you have finished cleaning it.
These simple steps of cleaning pierced ear, especially when it is infected, have proven to be very important to many people.
Severe infection – see a doctor
If you are suffering from severe piercings infection, it is always advisable to see a doctor. Furthermore, if your clasp gets embedded on your skin (and you are not able to get them off), your swelling and reddening go beyond the piercing site, you have a fever or you do not see any improvement, ensure you see a doctor for further treatment.
Furthermore, it is good to see a doctor if your infected piercing begins to bleed.
Note: If you have an ear cartilage piercing infection, or any infection if you have those on the upper part will comprehensively cover it under cartilage piercings in our next post.
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References and sources