If you have a cartilage piercing that has become infected, don’t neglect it. You can lose part of your ear if you don’t clear up the infection. This is often associated with cheap piercing artists, but it can happen to anyone. You’ll certainly lower your risk if you choose a professional piercer.
Piercings located on the cartilage and upper ear are a lot more dangerous than piercings of the earlobes. They are more likely to develop infections, and they are harder to treat, since they don’t respond as well to antibiotics. The infection rate on overall body piercings is 22%, but for cartilage piercing, the infection rate is 34%.
We’ll be looking at the causes of infection first, and then the symptoms and treatments.
Your cartilage piercing has become infected, but what caused it?
Body piercing infections come either from the piercing process or lack of aftercare in keeping them clean. Some common causes for an infected cartilage piercing include:
- Poor & non-hygienic piercing equipment or procedures
The most common piercing infection cause is using unsterilized needles, guns or other equipment, or poor piercing procedures. WebMD reports that Oregon has seen clusters of infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. The infections are attributed to poor procedures at piercing kiosks (by non-professional piercers). This led to multiple people becoming infected at about the same time.
- Cheaply made and wrong materials in jewelry
Some people have allergic reactions to the wrong type of jewelry, which can lead to a more serious infection. Nickel causes allergic reactions for some. Your piercer should only use piercing jewelry made with titanium, stainless steel or gold. Make sure that the post is not too loose or tight.
- Poor aftercare and personal hygiene
Poor hygiene after your piercing can cause an infected cartilage piercing. You need to care for your piercing not only when it’s new and healing, but from then on. Follow proper aftercare routines and don’t touch any piercing if your hands aren’t clean.
In addition, tie your hair back away from your piercing, at least for the first several days. Don’t let others touch the piercing. Change and sterilize your bed sheets and pillow cases every day.
Other causes of infected cartilage piercing include:
- Over-cleaning your piercing
- Physical injuries, like wearing jewelry while partying or playing sports
- Use of a piercing gun instead of a needle to do the piercing – They increase the chance of developing bumps behind your ear.
Did you know you can experience an infection in a cartilage piercing months or even a year after it has healed? It can happen, particularly if you fondle or touch your piercing a lot.
Infected Cartilage Piercing – Signs & Symptoms
Are you scared of the risks of cartilage piercings? You may wonder how you’ll know if your cartilage has become infected, so you can treat it as soon as possible. Here are some of the common infection symptoms and signs:
- Skin redness around your piercing, lasting for more than several days after the piercing is done
- Change of skin color around piercing area after redness fades
- Prolonged bleeding in piercing
- Pain and tenderness of cartilage
- Skin feeling hot around the site of piercing
- Discharge from site, which may include yellowish or greenish pus
- Scabbing and formation of crust
- In severe cases, fever – especially if you’re infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which causes Perichondritis
These are only the most common of infection signs. There may be others. It depends on what causes your infection.
Treating Infected Cartilage Piercing – Treatments – What to Do
Now that you know some of the symptoms and causes of infection in the cartilage, let’s look at some ways to treat that infection. Some ways to fix your infection are home remedies, and some are medications.
- Saline Solution
This works for mild infections. Use saline solution to clean the area of your piercing. Saline is a natural way to help heal up your infection. It can be used routinely during the natural aftercare process, too.
- Strong Antibiotics
Antibiotics are a strong way to treat infection. They are often recommended if your wound grows beyond the site of the piercing. You will need to be checked by a medical professional to make sure that your infection requires an antibiotic.
Since your cartilage doesn’t have much blood supply, more common antibiotics like amoxicillin may not be of help. Your physician will prescribe a stronger antibiotic, like Cipro. This medication is not approved for children, however.
- Antibacterial Ointment
If you want to utilize medication in an ointment form, your physician will need to approve this choice. Ointments do affect the proper drainage process, which may slow your healing. Some medications that are used include chlorhexidine rinse and mupirocin ointment.
As you clean your piercing site, utilize piercing solution, if it was provided by your professional piercer. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, as they may dry out the skin.
- Warm Compresses
Warm compresses using sea salt and water will help to encourage more blood flow to the piercing site.
As you treat your infection, be sure to continue to eat a healthy diet. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Avoiding alcohol and smoking boosts circulation and allows for faster healing.
Should you remove the jewelry?
If you have an infection, do not remove your jewelry, even though you may be tempted to do so. The jewelry keeps the hole open, allowing your piercing to drain out the infection. If you remove your jewelry, the piercing channel can close up or cause an abscess. This would lead to the hardening and darkening of surrounding tissue, along with pain and swelling, since the infection will be trapped beneath your skin.
If you have a more serious infection, consult your physician or professional piercer. They may recommend removing the jewelry in rare cases. The jewelry may be removed permanently, if there is tissue destruction around your piercing. This could cause a deformity of the ear.
Why are ear cartilage piercings riskier than other piercings?
If your pierced ear cartilage becomes infected, it should be treated immediately. These are riskier than piercings in the earlobe. Infection may result in painful abscesses. This is due to the fact that the skin is so close to the cartilage that pus may become trapped.
Surgery may be required for abscessed piercings in cartilage. Antibiotics may not be strong enough to help. These types of surgeries may require that the affected cartilage be removed. This could deform your ear.
Other ear cartilage piercing risks include:
- Hypertonic scarring
- Formation of keloids
Some people may develop bumps from their cartilage piercings. They may occur on the back of the ear or from part of the cartilage of the ear. Symptoms commonly accompanying these bumps include fever, inflammation, pain, bleeding, and pus oozing with foul odor from the bump.
Bumps may form due to the excessive growth of collagen, a boil, use of a piercing gun instead of a needle or by a keloid. If you have developed a bump on the piercing, here are some ways it can be treated:
To use aspirin on piercing bumps, crush an aspirin, add water (just a bit), apply to your ear and leave it there, two or three times per day.
- Tea tree oil
This is an effective way to rid yourself of a bump from a cartilage piercing. Use a cotton ball to apply it. It hastens the process of healing and helps get rid of the bump, with its anti-bacterial properties.
- Lemon juice
Add several drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice in a small bowl. Dip a sterile cotton ball in the juice and then apply it to the bump. The lemon juice helps in getting rid of bumps on cartilage piercings.
- Soakings with sea salt
Mix 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt into about eight ounces of warm water. Apply with a cotton ball to the bump. Leave the salt on the bump for 15-20 minutes and then rinse it off.
- Chamomile tea
Place a chamomile tea bag in hot water (not TOO hot). Apply it to the bump until the tea bag cools. Do this twice a day or more, for 10-15 minutes each time.
Cleaning and Caring for an Infected Cartilage Piercing
Since your cartilage does not have a great deal of circulation, it does take longer to heal. The better your aftercare, the more swiftly it will heal. You need to use proper hygiene and care. This last portion of our article will discuss ways to clean your infected piercing so that it will heal more quickly.
The most often recommended method of cleaning a piercing is by the use of saline solution, which is a mixture of warm water and sea salt. Make sure the area is clean. Remove any dirt, pus, dead tissue or other foreign material. You can make your own solution with a teaspoon of non-iodized sea salt in a glass of warm water.
Some people have also had success using antibacterial soap to clean their piercings. This is fine, as long as you don’t have sensitive skin.