What Are the Risks of Having Your Ears Pierced?

Woman putting in an earring.
Woman putting in an earring. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

If you are getting your ears pierced, you will fit among 83 out of 100 Americans that have their ears pierced. This is a common way that people use to individualize themselves within society.

Aside from ear piercings, the other most common places that are pierced include eyebrows, genitals, lip, naval, nipple, nose, and tongue. Because this is so commonly performed, there are many standards in place to help minimize complications, however, there are some dangers of getting your ears pierced.

Potential Risk With Getting Your Ears Pierced

While getting ears pierced is very common, it does involve some serious risks. The most common (albeit all are relatively uncommon) include:

If proper hygiene is not followed, your risk of infection will be increased. You should carefully clean your ears as directed and wash your hands before touching your new piercings or changing the earrings.

Symptoms of infection include redness and irritation at the site, oozing of pus or fluid, (especially if it has a foul odor), fever and decreased blood pressure in very severe cases. If the infection is localized to the ear, it is called perichondritis, or auricular perichondritis. However, if severe enough, the infection can sometimes enter the bloodstream. This is called sepsis and, though the risk of it is low, it can develop into a deadly condition called septic shock.

The risk of infection is greater when the ear cartilage, as opposed to the earlobe, is pierced. As cartilage has less blood flow, making it difficult for infection-fighting white blood cells to arrive at the site of infection and do their job.

Treatments

If you do have complications after having your ears pierced some of the following treatments may be warranted.

It's always best to consult with a physician before starting a specific treatment for complications related to ear piercing.

  1. Abscesses and infections related to pierced ears usually will respond to an oral antibiotic.
  2. Superficial skin infections can best be treated with a topical antibiotic.
  3. Allergic reactions are usually caused by certain metals. Avoid metals that you have allergies to, and use topical steroids to help recover from the allergic reaction faster.
  4. Embedded earrings are usually caused by using spring-loaded guns. Surgical removal of the earring is commonly necessary, but only requires local anesthesia and a small incision.
  5. Keloid scarring generally will require surgical removal, corticosteroid injections, or radiation/laser therapy.
  6. Traumatic tearing from an earring may be repaired by simply suturing the ear (for simple tears) or more extensive surgical repair for severe tears.

When the earring needs to be removed for various reasons, you may request to have a 20-gauge Teflon catheter ring put into the hole to keep it patent while your ear heals. If the hole closes, you should wait 3 months and have the earring placed in a different spot where there is no scar tissue formed.

Choosing the Best Place to Get Your Ears Pierced

Not all places that perform body piercings are created equal. Be sure to investigate any place you are thinking about going to for ear or body piercings. Here are some quick tips to finding a good place:

  • Go to a place that does not allow smoking or alcohol within the premises
  • Look for places that pass the "eye-ball" cleanliness test. Dirty environments are more prone to having higher infection rates.
  • Ask if you can watch them do a piercing. You should see that they wash their hands and then glove prior to performing the piercing.
  • Do NOT go to a place that soaks needles. You should look for a place that disposes of needles in a sharps container and uses an autoclave for other reusable equipment.
  • Avoid piercing shops that use ear piercing guns, even on earlobes. The best places will not use these devices due to potential complications.

Sources:

Association of Professional Piercers. (n.d.). Picking Your Piercer. 5/28/2016 from https://www.safepiercing.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/APP_Picking_Web.pdf

Meltzer, D.I. (2005). Complications of Body Piercing. Am Fam Physician. 72(10):2029-2034

Statistic Brain. (2015). Body Piercing Statistics. 5/28/2016 from http://www.statisticbrain.com/body-piercing-statistics/

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