Ear piercings are so popular that it is easy to forget that any cosmetic piercing carries inherent dangers and health risks. Earlobe piercings have been common for women, men and children for decades. More recently, piercings of the ear cartilage have become extremely popular. Examples of ear cartilage piercings include the helix, conch, tragus, daith and industrial. These piercings use barbells, rings or studs in different parts of the ear.
The risk of an ear piercing becoming infected is highest during warm weather and shortly after the piercing has taken place. The risk of infection can be reduced by stringent after-care of a new piercing, including daily cleaning and applying saline to the pierced area. The risk of infection also depends on which part of the ear you choose to have pierced. Piercings in the earlobe run a relatively low risk of infection; high ear piercings of the upper ear cartilage are more prone to infection. Writing in the April 1997 issue of the journal "Pediatrics," a consortium of doctors discuss case studies relating to high ear piercing infections and state that high ear piercings carry a greater risk of serious infections including Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus. An infected abscess at the site of a new piercing may have to be surgically drained and can even cause death if the infection is severe. The high ear is more prone to infected piercings because the cartilage material of the ear has a poorer blood supply than the earlobe; therefore, cartilage piercings take longer to heal.
Ears may be pierced with studs or circular jewelry known as captive bead rings. Studs are generally more popular for lobe piercings, while captive bead rings are more typically used for piercings in the ear cartilage as they can more easily be cleaned and rotated. Once a piercing is fully healed, a wide variety of jewelry can be worn in an ear piercing: long straight barbells, spikes, rings or earrings that dangle from the lobe. Each type of ear jewelry carries a risk of snagging on clothing, towels or other objects. When snagged, an earring can tear the piercing. If you play contact sports such as ice hockey, consider taking out your ear jewelry before games in order to avoid the risk of snagging and tearing your piercing. Clear plastic piercing retainers can be worn to protect and maintain the piercing when your jewelry is removed. Also be aware that young children and pets may grab ear jewelry without realizing it is attached to your body.
You may be allergic to the material of the jewelry used to pierce your ear. If your skin around the piercing gets an itchy rash, you may be allergic to the specific metal the jewelry is made from. Nickel jewelry is one of the more common allergens; surgical stainless steel is one of the least likely metals to cause an allergic reaction. However, each person is different and you may be allergic to gold, silver, copper or another metal. Jewelry made of surgical stainless steel or titanium is commonly used by body piercers who wish to minimize the risk of allergic reaction.
- "Pediatrics"; Auricular Infections Caused by High Ear Piercing in Adolescents; R. Staley et al.; April 1997
- "American Journal of Otolaryngology"; Comparison between cartilage and soft tissue ear piercing complications; Timothy Simplot; 1998
- Body Jewelry U Seek: Body Piercing Retainers
- Silverflake: Allergies to Metal Jewelry