While it’s very common for girls—and boys—to get their ears pierced, that doesn’t mean it’s a foolproof process. It’s crucial to make sure the procedure is done safely, with sterile equipment, and that you know how to properly care for the new piercings at home. To avoid infections, follow these ear piercing safety tips from Kimberly Schneider, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Health.
Avoid newborn piercings
“I tell parents to wait until children are at least three months old before getting ears pierced because if they were to develop an infection and fever from the piercing, infants younger than three months almost always have to get admitted to the hospital according to protocol,” says Dr. Schneider. Because ear piercing does pose a risk of infection, avoid a potential hospital stay and wait until your baby is older.
Make sure sterile procedures are in place
Some pediatricians’ offices do piercings, in which case you should feel confident the environment is sterile and safe. If you go to a jewelry store, “make sure you’re going to a reputable place with sterile practices,” says Dr. Schneider. “You may want to check with the Better Business Bureau and make sure there have been no complaints.” While regulations and licensing standards vary depending on the state, the person performing the piercing should be well trained, wear a new pair of disposable gloves, and use equipment that has been thoroughly sterilized. If you are unsure, ask about their sterilization procedures. Instruments should be treated with a heat-sterilization machine or cleaned with a disinfectant solution.
Choose the right metals
For the piercing earrings, pick ones made of hypoallergenic materials such as sterling silver or 14- or 18- or 24-karat gold. These types of metals are not likely to cause an allergic reaction. Note that nickel frequently causes allergic reactions so steer clear of nickel during the piercing process (ask the piercer if you are unsure).
Stay on top of your new piercings
Ask the piercer what to expect after the piercings and how to care for the area. The skin around the piercings might be swollen, sensitive, or red immediately afterward. To facilitate proper healing and avoid infection, follow these recommendations:
- Avoid touching the new piercings except when cleaning them.
- Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching your ears or earrings.
- Clean the entire area surrounding the piercings (front and back) with alcohol on a cotton swab two to three times a day. During each of these cleanings, make sure the earring backing is secure and then gently rotate the earrings.
- Be careful not to pull or push on your piercings when brushing your hair, talking on the phone, or wearing headphones. This will prevent a tear.
- If you can, avoid swimming in pools, hot tubs, lakes, and oceans while your piercings are healing because this could increase the risk of infection.
Keep your earrings in for at least six weeks
Do not remove or change the earrings for at least six weeks, or as long as the piercer recommends. “Stick with regular cleanings during this period of time and don’t slack off, otherwise it could lead to infection,” says Dr. Schneider. “This is a great opportunity to teach responsibility to older kids, but be cautious to not let your elementary school age child have sole responsibility for the piercings. Teach her how to do it and let her have some autonomy, but supervise from a distance.”
After you’re able to change the earrings (after the first six weeks), you’ll likely need to use only post earrings for six months post piercing to keep the holes from closing up. This is because it can take several months for piercings to fully heal.
Watch out for signs of infection
If you notice, pain, redness, puss, or swelling that lasts longer than 24 hours post piercing, contact your physician for an exam and treatment.
-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman