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First aid

Ear - pierced

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Allergic Reaction to Nickel
Allergic Reaction to Nickel

  • Area around pierced earring is red, tender, swollen, warm to touch
  • Earlobes can also become torn or lacerated

General Information

  • About 30% of people who have their ears pierced experience minor complications in the first few days or weeks after piercing.
  • Complications include:
    • Localized infection at earring site or spread of infection to entire ear
    • Skin allergy (contact dermatitis) from nickel (contained in some earrings)
    • Back of earring becomes lodged inside the earlobe
    • Tear of earlobe due to pulling on the earring
When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Earring has torn completely through the ear lobe
  • Skin around the piercing site is split open or gaping
  • Bleeding at the piercing site has not stopped after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Part of earring (clasp) is stuck inside the earlobe
  • Entire ear is red or swollen
  • Ear pain and you have a fever
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think you need to be seen
  • Redness has spread beyond the earring site
  • Minor tear in your earlobe and your last tetanus booster was over 10 years ago
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Swollen lymph node (in front of or behind earlobe)
  • Symptoms not improving after 3 days of treatment at with antibiotic ointment
  • Small tear in earlobe from earring injury and no tetanus booster greater than 10 years
  • Large thick scar has developed at the earring site during the last couple months
Self Care at Home If
  • Localized redness and tenderness only at the earring site, and you don't think you need to be seen
  • Small amount of discharge at earring site, and you don't think you need to be seen
  • Small tear in earlobe from earring injury, and you don't think you need to be seen

  1. Localized Redness Or Discharge At Earring Site:
    • Remove the earring from the ear three times a day. Clean the earring and post with rubbing alcohol.
    • Wash away any crusting or discharge from the earlobe using soap and water.
    • Gently clean the holes on both sides of the earlobe with rubbing alcohol and some gauze.
    • Apply Bacitracin ointment to the earring post and to the earlobe holes and reinsert the earring. Bacitracin is an antibiotic ointment that can be obtained over-the-counter.
  2. Newly-Pierced Ears:
    • Don't remove the earring.
    • Use a cotton swab ("Q-Tip") dipped in alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean the earring post and skin three times a day.
    • Rotate (turn) the earring several times each day to prevent the skin from sticking to the post.
  3. Self Care For Small Tear:
    • For bleeding, use gauze or a towel to apply direct pressure to the area for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the earring and keep it out for 3-5 days.
    • Wash the area with soap and water.
  4. Preventing Infections in Newly Pierced Ears:
    • Have your earlobes pierced by someone who is experienced and uses sterile technique.
    • The initial posts should be 14-karat gold or stainless steel.
    • Do not remove the posts for 6 weeks.
    • Attach the earring clasp loosely to allow for swelling.
    • After washing the hands and cleaning both sides of the earlobes with rubbing alcohol, turn the posts approximately 3 rotations. Do this twice a day.
    • By the end of 6 weeks, the lining of the channels should be healed and earrings may be changed as often as desired
  5. Preventing an Allergic Reaction To Nickel: Some people have a skin allergy to nickel. Wear earrings with posts made out of 14 K gold or surgical steel.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You are not improving after 3 days
    • You become worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 9/21/2007

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Online

Portions Copyright 2000-2009 Self Care Decisions LLC; Copyright LMS, Inc.

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