Pierced Ears: How to Prevent Painful Infections

Pierced Ears: How to Prevent Painful Infections

Driven by family tradition or fashion, thousands of kids get their ears pierced each year. Generally, ear piercing is a safe procedure, but a common complication is infection. Although pierced ear infections usually aren’t severe, they can cause a great deal of discomfort. Here’s what you need to know to help keep your little one’s ear piercings healthy and infection-free.

WHERE TO GO

Find a store or doctor’s office that is licensed to do ear piercings and has a good reputation. Most mall stores or kiosks will use sterile, individually-wrapped, single-use piercing guns that push a stud through the earlobe. More and more, doctor’s offices are also offering ear piercing, and there are even “medical piercing” centers that advertise the use of medical grade equipment and metals. The bottom line is that the establishment needs to be licensed to pierce ears, and equipment should never be reused.

PIERCING PREP

• If your child asks if it will hurt, let her know she will feel a pinch, but that it’s over quickly.
• Pick starter earrings that are made from gold or titanium. Avoid earrings made out of nickel, which can cause an allergic reaction.
• Very tiny studs can get pushed backwards through the new piercing, widening the hole and delaying healing time – so choose starter earrings that are bigger than the hole.

DURING THE PIERCING

• Some places will offer topical anesthesia, but the jury is out on if this helps much.
• If your child is old enough, the technician should explain the process step by step as it happens.

AFTERCARE BASICS

• Always wash hands before touching newly pierced ears, and wash ears with soap and water at least once a day.
• Leave the earrings in six to eight weeks – even at night. Removing the studs too early may cause the piercings to close.
• Twist the earrings a few times each day to keep the holes open.
• Gently clean around the piercing with a cotton ball or swab soaked in rubbing alcohol or another antiseptic to loosen any scabbing. You can also apply a thin coat of first-aid ointment or petroleum jelly around the hole.
• Don’t swim for at least 2 to 3 weeks after getting ears pierced. Chlorine can irritate the skin and bacteria in pools can increase the risk of infection.
• Piercings done in the cartilage of the upper ear are much more likely to become infected than earlobe piercings.
• If earlobes become painful, red or puffy and the holes ooze yellowish liquid, it probably means your child has an infection. Don’t remove the studs, but increase your cleansing regimen for a few days and flush the piercings with warm salt water. If the holes continue to ooze or be painful, check in with your pediatrician.

Stephen Hersey, MD
Stephen J. Hersey, MD, is a staff physician in Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. He provides direct patient care and supervises pediatric residents in the Main Campus Primary Care Center, Red Team. His interests include developmental pediatrics, asthma, and infectious disease.

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