Infected vs Irritated Ear Piercing: What to Know

    How to Tell the Difference

    Infected vs Irritated Ear Piercing: What to Know

    New piercings commonly experience redness, swelling, and drainage, but it can be hard to tell what’s normal and what’s a potential infection.



    Ear piercing is a fun way to channel self-expression.  Whether you pierce your lobes, conch, or helix, there are endless possibilities for styling your ear.  While getting a new piercing is fun and exciting, it is a wound that requires proper care to avoid complications. Read on to learn the differences between an irritated and infected ear piercing, including the symptoms and treatment options for each. This is not intended to provide or replace medical advice.  If you are concerned that your piercing may be infected, please seek medical care.

    What is an Irritated Ear Piercing?

    Irritation within the first week of a new piercing is common.  The body goes through an inflammatory phase in an effort to heal the new wound.  Some common symptoms of an irritated ear piercing include:

    • Redness and swelling around the piercing site
    • Pain or tenderness when touching the ear
    • Itching or burning sensation
    • A clear-yellowish discharge that forms a crust around the piercing

    In some cases, irritation can be caused by the body's reaction to the jewelry or the aftercare products used, which is why using only hypoallergenic and nickel-free jewelry is key.  

    It is important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by an infection, so it is important to monitor the piercing carefully and seek medical attention if the symptoms persist or worsen.

    Treatment for an Irritated Ear Piercing

    The first step in treating an irritated ear piercing is to keep the area clean.  The best product is a hypochlorous acid spray, such as our Advanced Aftercare; it is antibacterial and will bring healthy white blood cells to the piercing, expediting the healing process.  Avoid touching or turning your piercing, and wash your hands with antibacterial soap before you clean your piercing.  If you're a side sleeper, consider purchasing a piercing pillow, as this will help to reduce the pressure on the piercing and allow it to heal.   It is also important to avoid touching the area with dirty clothing or pillowcases, as this can introduce bacteria and cause infection.  Regularly cleaning earbuds and glasses will also help keep bacteria at bay. 

    To relieve the symptoms of an irritated ear piercing, you can apply a warm compress to the area for 5-10 minutes several times a day. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can also be used to reduce pain and swelling. (Check with your primary care provider first to make sure that over-the-counter medications are safe for you.) If the symptoms do not improve within a few days, it is important to seek medical attention to rule out an infection.

    What is an Infected Ear Piercing?

    An infected ear piercing is a more serious condition that can occur when bacteria enter the piercing site. Some common symptoms of an infected ear piercing include:

    • Redness and swelling that spreads beyond the piercing site
    • Increased pain or tenderness, especially when touching the area
    • The area feels warm to the touch
    • Yellow or green pus that oozes from the piercing
    • Earring starts to become embedded or “sink” into the ear

    It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect that you have an infected ear piercing. In severe cases, an untreated infection can lead to complications such as abscesses, scarring, or even permanent damage to the ear.

    Treatment for an Infected Ear Piercing

    In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection. It is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if the symptoms improve. This will help to prevent the infection from returning or becoming resistant to treatment.

    Although it may seem counterintuitive, it may be best to leave an earring in place while an infection is healing.  By leaving the jewelry in, the piercing acts as an open channel to allow discharge to exit the area.  However, listen to what your primary care provider thinks is best for you because every case is different.

    What if I Can’t Tell the Difference?

    Sometimes the line between irritation and infection can be blurred, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other.  Although irritation is a normal part of healing a piercing, it’s important to have your concerns addressed by a healthcare professional.  Our head nurses are available to answer questions at our nurse helpline 7 days a week.

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