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Pierced Ear Infection

Young girl getting her ears pierced

What is a pierced ear infection?

Pierced ear infections are common among children and teenagers. In most cases, the infection will appear a few days after the piercing. Signs of a pierced ear infection include pain, redness, swelling, and a yellow discharge from the piercing site.

Causes of pierced ear infections

The most common cause of pierced ear infections is the introduction of germs, found on the surface of the skin, into the piercing site. This can happen when unsterile equipment is used during the piercing, or if the piercing is not cleaned regularly at home. Also, touching the new piercing with dirty fingers or sharing earrings can lead to an infection.

Other causes of pierced ear infections may include:

  • earrings clasped too tightly
  • a piece of the earring becoming embedded in the earlobe
  • an allergic reaction to earrings made with nickel

An allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) to nickel is common among children and teenagers. Signs of an allergic reaction to nickel may include dry, itchy skin, rash, or blisters. Skin irritated by an allergic reaction to nickel is more likely to become infected so make sure your child’s initial earrings are made from 14-karat gold or stainless steel.

Treatment of pierced ear infections

Remember to wash your hands before cleaning your child’s piercing. Clean the piercing with warm water and soap twice a day. Do not use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. These solutions will dry the skin, which can prevent the piercing from healing quickly and properly.

With proper care and hygiene, a pierced ear infection will disappear in one to two weeks.

When to remove the earrings

Earrings should be removed from your child’s ears if the infection persists or spreads despite regular cleaning. If the infection involves the cartilage of the ear, remove the earrings and seek medical attention for a proper evaluation. Finally, earrings should be removed if your child develops an allergy or sensitivity reaction to the metal or other compounds in the earring.

When to seek medical help

Make an appointment with your child’s doctor if:

  • your child develops a fever​.
  • pain, swelling, and redness spread beyond the piercing site.
  • infection does not begin to improve after 48 hours of treatment.

Prevention of pierced ear infections

Before and after the piercing

  • Make sure the piercer is experienced and is wearing protective gloves for each piercing.
  • Turn the post three full rotations when cleaning the piercing.
  • Encourage your child to not touch her new piercing unless it is being cleaned.
  • Wait at least six weeks before changing the posts.
  • Use earrings that have a comfort clutch or screw-on clasp. These may reduce the risk of the earring becoming clasped too tightly on the earlobe.
  • Encourage your child to not play with her earrings.

After six weeks

  • Sterilize new earrings with rubbing alcohol before insertion.
  • Avoid pressure on the earlobe by clasping new earrings loosely.
  • Have your child remove her earrings before bed.

Key points

  • To prevent a pierced ear infection, take your child to a clean and experienced piercer.
  • Signs of a pierced ear infection may include pain, swelling, and yellow discharge from the piercing site.
  • Clean your child’s piercing with warm water and antibacterialsoap. Do not use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • See your child’s doctor if she develops a fever.

Elly Berger, BA, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, MHPE