Infected Ear Piercing

A new ear piercing is an open wound that can take several weeks to fully heal. During that time, any bacteria that enter the wound can lead to infection. Taking good care of your piercing is key to preventing infection.


Redness and swelling around your piercing are signs of an ear piercing infection.
Signs of an ear piercing infection include redness and swelling around the piercing.

What is an infected ear piercing?

An ear piercing is a hole through your earlobe or the cartilage in your middle or upper ear. Ear piercing infections may be red, swollen, sore, warm, itchy or tender. Sometimes, piercings ooze blood or white, yellow or green pus.

A new piercing is an open wound that can take several weeks to fully heal. During that time, any bacteria that enter the wound can lead to infection.

Types of ear piercing infections

The two main types of ear piercings are through your earlobes and through the cartilage of your ear.

Your earlobes are fleshy and fatty, with strong blood flow. They heal quickly, reducing the risk of an infected earlobe piercing.

Your upper ear is cartilage, a thick, stiff tissue with less blood flow. Piercings in your upper ear are more likely to become infected, and infections in your upper ear are sometimes serious.

How common are ear infections from piercings?

Millions of people get their ears pierced every year, and most of them have no serious complications. Mild irritation and infections are common, however, for new piercings. In most cases, infections aren’t serious and clear up quickly.

In one study, as many as 35% of people with pierced ears had one or more of the following complications:

  • Minor infection: 77%.
  • Allergic reaction: 43%.
  • Scar tissue (keloid) formation: 2.5%.
  • Traumatic tearing: 2.5%.


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Symptoms and Causes

What does an infected ear piercing look like?

Some pain and redness are part of the normal healing process for pierced ears. It can be easy to confuse those with signs of infection.

If there’s a bump on the back of the ear piercing, it’s not necessarily infected. Small bumps called granulomas can sometimes form around the piercing. These bumps are trapped fluid that you can treat by compressing them with warm water.

You know your ear piercing is infected if you have symptoms such as:

  • Discharge coming out of your piercing.
  • Fever.
  • Redness, warmth or swelling around your piercing.
  • Tenderness in your pierced earlobe or cartilage.

What causes infected ear piercings?

If bacteria get into a new piercing, it can lead to infection. You may expose your new piercing to harmful bacteria by:

  • Getting your ears pierced in an unhygienic environment or with unsterilized equipment.
  • Touching your ears with dirty hands.
  • Removing your earrings before your piercing heals.
  • Neglecting to clean your new piercing daily.
  • Swimming or submerging your head in a pool, hot tub, lake or river before your piercing fully heals.

What are the risk factors for ear piercing infections?

Many things can increase your risk of getting an infection from an ear piercing. Certain health conditions can affect your body’s immune system and your ability to fight infection. These conditions include:

  • Diabetes.
  • Heart issues.
  • Weakened immune system.

If you take steroids or blood thinners, ask your healthcare provider if it’s safe to get a piercing.


What are the complications of infected ear piercings?

Leaving an infected piercing untreated can result in a more severe infection or an abscess (a swollen area filled with pus).

Upper ear piercings are more likely to get infected. Left untreated, these infections can lead to a condition known as perichondritis. An infection can also spread into your body (systemic infection).

In some cases, an infection can cause your piercing to close up.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is an ear infection from a piercing diagnosed?

If you see signs of an infected cartilage piercing, you should contact a healthcare provider. The provider can assess the severity of the infection.

If you suspect an infection in an earlobe piercing, take special care with hygiene. If the infection worsens, contact a provider.


Management and Treatment

How do you treat an infected ear piercing?

A healthcare provider can tell you what to do for an infected ear piercing. They may recommend a variety of treatments to help heal an infected ear piercing. Ear piercing infection treatment may include:

  • Applying a warm compress to the infected earlobe or cartilage.
  • Cleaning the infected ear piercing with sterile saline.
  • Using antibiotic ointment on the affected area.
  • Taking oral antibiotics for more severe infections.


How can I prevent a pierced ear infection?

Taking good care of your piercings is key to preventing infection. You should:

  • Leave your earrings in day and night until the piercings fully heal, which could take up to six weeks.
  • Wash your hands before touching your earlobes or cartilage.
  • Wash your piercing twice daily with a mild soap or cleanser.
  • Carefully rinse your piercing after you wash it.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol and/or antibiotic ointment to the area twice daily.
  • Gently rotate your earrings daily after applying antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly to lubricate the piercings.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with infected pierced ears?

With good care, most infections clear up within a few days. If your infected ear piercing isn’t improving, you should see a healthcare provider.

Living With

When to go to a doctor for an ear piercing infection

You should call a healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Chills or fever.
  • Earring or earring clasp that won’t move or becomes embedded in your ear.
  • Redness, swelling and pain in your earlobe or cartilage.
  • Foul-smelling yellow pus or discharge from your piercing.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • How will I know when the infection has cleared?
  • When is it safe to remove my earrings?
  • Do I need to clean my earrings?
  • Can my ears get infected even after the piercing heals?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Getting your ears pierced is most often a safe, simple procedure. Be sure to go to an experienced piercer who practices proper hygiene. Keep your new piercings clean, and don’t remove your earrings until your piercings have healed completely. Be patient — by preventing an infection now, you can enjoy your healthy piercings for years to come.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/05/2023.

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