Ear piercing is a way of expressing yourself, but it can sometimes have unwanted side effects, such as infection. If your ear seems to be infected, the first thing to do is to contact your doctor for advice. Keep your piercing clean at home to speed up recovery. While waiting, make sure you don't injure or disturb the area of infection. Your ears should be back to normal after a few weeks.
Part 1 of 3: Using Home Remedies
Step 1. Wash hands before handling the infected area
Hands can spread dirt or bacteria which can make the infection worse. Before cleaning or treating an infected area, wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap.
Step 2. Remove the pus from around the ear with a cotton bud
Wet the tip of a cotton swab with antibacterial soap or saline solution. Squeeze out the liquid or pus until it's clear. However, don't remove any scabs or crusts that actually aid recovery.
Discard the cotton buds when finished. If both ears are infected, use another cotton swab
Step 3. Clean the infected area with a saline solution
To make the salt solution, mix tsp. (3 grams) of salt into 1 cup (250 ml) of warm water. Wet a cotton swab or sterile gauze with saline solution and gently rub it over both ears, right on the piercing. Do it twice a day to keep it clean.
- The area of infection may sting slightly when rubbed with a saline solution. However, it doesn't hurt. If sick, call a doctor.
- Avoid rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based solutions on the area of infection as they can irritate and slow down recovery.
- After that, pat it dry with a tissue or cotton bud. Do not use towels that can irritate the ears.
- If both ears are infected, apply a cotton swab or other gauze to each ear.
Step 4. Apply a warm compress to reduce pain
Wet a washcloth with warm water or saline solution. Press on the ear for 3-4 minutes. Repeat again if needed.
After that, dry the ear by patting it with a tissue
Step 5. Take over-the-counter pain relievers for pain relief
Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can temporarily relieve pain. Take the medicine according to the directions on the package.
Part 2 of 3: Seeking Medical Care
Step 1. Visit a doctor as soon as you suspect an infection
Serious complications can occur if the infection is not treated. If your ears are painful, red, or oozing pus, make an appointment with your doctor.
- An infected piercing may be red or swollen. It may be painful, throbbing, or warm to the touch.
- Discharge or pus from the piercing should be checked by a doctor. The pus may be yellow or white.
- If you have a fever, see a doctor immediately. Fever is a sign of a much more serious infection.
- Usually, the infection develops within 2–4 weeks of the ear being pierced, although it is possible for an infection to develop several years afterward.
Step 2. Leave the earring in the hole unless the doctor advises otherwise
Removing the earrings can interfere with recovery or cause an abscess to form. So, keep the earrings in the ear canal until you see a doctor.
- Do not touch, move, or play with the earring that is in the ear canal.
- Your doctor will tell you whether you can continue wearing the earrings or not. If your doctor decides that your earrings need to be removed, you will be helped to remove them. Don't put earrings back on until you get doctor's approval.
Step 3. Apply antibiotic cream on minor infections
Doctors can prescribe creams or recommend over-the-counter brands. Apply on the infected area as directed by the doctor.
Examples of over-the-counter ointments or creams you can use are Neosporin, bacitracin, or Polysporin
Step 4. Take prescription pills for more serious infections
If you have a fever or have a severe infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic pill. Take the pills as directed by the doctor. Remember to finish the antibiotics even if the infection seems to have gone.
Usually, you need pills if the cartilage piercing becomes infected
Step 5. Drain the pus from the abscess
An abscess is a wound that contains pus. If there is an abscess, the doctor will drain the fluid. This is an outpatient procedure that can be done on the same day as the first visit.
The doctor may apply a warm compress to the ear to drain the pus or cut the abscess
Step 6. Have surgery to treat a severe infection in the cartilage
Cartilage piercings are more risky than lobe piercings. If the cartilage piercing becomes infected, see a doctor as soon as possible. Severe cases require surgery to remove the cartilage.
Cartilage is the thick tissue at the top of the earlobe, located above the lobe
Part 3 of 3: Protecting the Ears
Step 1. Do not touch the ear or earring unnecessarily
If it's not cleaning a cut or removing earrings, don't touch your ear. Avoid clothing or appliances that are used too close to the infected ear.
- Don't wear headphones until the infection clears up.
- Do not stick the phone to the side of the infected ear. If both are infected, turn on the speaker.
- If you have long hair, trim it in a ponytail or bun so it doesn't hang near your ears.
- Do not sleep on your side on the infected side. Make sure your sheets and pillowcases are always clean to avoid spreading infection.
Step 2. Don't swim until the infection and piercing have healed
Generally, you shouldn't swim for 6 weeks after getting pierced. If infected, wait for the infection and the piercing to heal completely.
Step 3. Wear hypoallergenic jewelry if you are nickel sensitive
In some cases, your doctor may find that you are allergic to nickel, not an infection. If so, wear earrings made of sterling silver, gold, medical stainless steel, or another nickel-free accessory that is less likely to cause a reaction.
- Allergies are characterized by dry, red, or itchy skin.
- If you have allergies and continue to wear nickel jewelry, you run the risk of getting the infection again.
- If the ear cartilage becomes infected, see a doctor immediately. Infections in the cartilage can cause scarring if not treated by a doctor immediately.
- Do not treat the infection yourself without a doctor's advice. Staph infections (the most common type of skin infection) can have serious consequences if left untreated.