Ear Piercings

You’ve promised your daughter that she can have her ears pierced for her 10th birthday. Unfortunately, she turns 10 in 2 weeks. You know the store in the mall that sells earrings also pierce, but you wonder how safe they really are. Are your fears grounded? Maybe.

Or maybe your 16 year old wants a naval piercing. You’re not very excited about this, but after much negotiating, you’ve given in. Where can you go that’s safe?

Piercing has been practiced for thousands of years. When done using sterile techniques, complications are rare. The most common complication will be infection. Sometimes the infection is minor, but more serious infections include abscess formation (pus pockets), cellulitis (infection of the surrounding skin), and even spreading through the blood stream (sepsis). Treatment of serious infections may require antibiotics (oral or through an IV) and surgery, which can result in disfigurement.

It is important that clean instruments are used when piercing. Piercing guns are not recommended. They cannot be properly sterilized and there have been cases of hepatitis transmission through piercing guns. Other options include single use instruments, and piercing needles that can be autoclaved. Which is chosen depends on the site to be pierced.  A piercing needle can be used in almost any location. All equipment that is not disposable should be autoclaved (sterilized) prior to each use. A reputable piercer should be happy to discuss their sterilization technique with you.

I have single use (Coren) ear piercers in the office. They come preloaded with the earring, sealed in a plastic wrapper. The earrings are either plated with 24K gold or are stainless steel.  There should be little or no risk of infection or allergic reactions using these, which is why I chose to use them. They work great on ear lobes, but unfortunately are not useful in other areas.

After piercing, the area should be cleaned twice daily with soap and water. Soaking the area in a salt water solution may also be useful. Whether or not the jewelry should be spun (or rotated) is a matter of debate. Alcohol and peroxide tends to dry the skin out, and no are longer recommended (although it depends on the site pierced). Hands should always be washed prior to touching the newly-pierced area.  Healing time depends on the area pierced. Ear lobes usually take 6-8 weeks, navel 6-12 months. Most other areas are somewhere in between.

The risk of infection is greater in areas where there is less blood supply. There was an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reporting severe infections that were traced back to a jewelry kiosk in Oregon. They were using a contaminated bottle which was filled with disinfectant and sprayed on the clients and instruments. Only those who had their ear cartilage pierced (almost no blood supply) had severe infections, compared to those whose lobes were pierced.

Please be very careful when having a body part pierced. Make sure you confirm and are comfortable with the cleanliness of the piercer and tools. Be careful to keep the area clean afterwards; at least until it is fully healed. Remember, this is an open wound. Finally, if you suspect the area has become infected, please see your doctor ASAP.