Pierced ear infections

Ok. I got a new job. No longer having to search for work seemed to me to be a salubrious condition to get my right ear pierced twice, something which I wanted to do for some time. (Yes, it is intended to make me look gay. Pride season is coming up, and there is a limit to the number of rainbows I can wear at one time.)

Anyway, last Monday I moseyed down to my local Ardene, a costume-jewelry and other assorted millinery shop which mainly caters to young teenage girls (the little-plastic-butterflies-in-the-hair set). I explained my desire and the nice lady sat me down, got out her gun, removed a stud from its hermetically sealed packaging (with gloved fingers), and shot it into my ear, then repeated. She then sold me some aloe vera gel, instructing me to use it every night for a month until the holes heal. I have been doing this diligently.

Now, I got my left ear pierced once with the same procedure about a year ago. Instead of gel, though, I used a hydrogen peroxide solution (the ordinary old drugstore stuff). I have since been informed that it’s a wonder my ear didn’t turn black and fall off.

Anyway, since I got my ear pierced, I noticed that the skin on the lobe is flaking like dandruff (an effect, I understand, of the gel), but also that the site is slightly red occasionally, and is sometimes tender when touched. (This varies from “it stings a little bit” to the normal feeling you get when you press soft skin against a thin metal bar, i.e. not much.)

What really freaks me out is I was quite ill on Wednesday and Thursday - the infamous flu-like symptoms (sore throat (just now clearing up), headaches, aching back, severe fatigue).

How do I tell if I have a piercing infection? How do I keep it from getting worse, if so? Can a minor ear-lobe infection cause a whole-body feeling of ickiness, or is it just coincidence? And is peroxide really the poison that my interlocutor claims it is?

Relax, kiddo - and go back to the peroxide. A serious infection would hurt all the time and there’d be pus. Aloe vera is for burns - it doesn’t have any antiseptic properties that I know of - but peroxide does.

I happen to know a little bit about piercing and the like and these are the things I’ve heard:

  1. All piercing on ANY body part should be done by a piercing needle. The “gun” is basically used on cattle and the like for tagging them, not for cosmetic purposes. It doesn’t make the cleanest possible hole, and the small jagged edges make the hole more prone to infection.

  2. As for cleaning, as said above aloe is basically for burns and more to just soothe them. Hydrogen peroxide is great for fighting infection, but when dealing with piercings peroxide tends to also hinder the healing process. Your best bet for fighting infection and speeding up healing time is to go with somthing like Lever 2000 or any other anti-bacterial soap.

That’s my knowledge of this subject, hope it could help you out a bit.

Ooooo… I don’t think it was that kind of gun. From what I could tell, it was designed and sold to Ardene by the same company which manufactured the studs that it used, specifically for ear-piercing use.

On the other hand, if what you say is true, then it’s fortunate that I’ve no plans to get anything else pierced, since I don’t want anyone coming near me with a needle. Aiiigh.

You could have a nickel allergy, as I do. Nickel is used as an alloy in a lot of jewelry. Use only sterling silver, 14K gold, or earrings with stainless steel posts. Peroxide is good. I think soaps can leave a residue. I heal faster when I use peroxide on cuts, etc.

As with all personal medical problems, the best advice is “See your doctor.” As well-educated and thoughtful as they are, our Gentle Readers are not usually licensed practicing physicians.

Matt, I think as long as the redness is not spreading, you can safely treat this at home. I would recommend using an antiseptic cream such as Bacitracin or Neosporin.

If the new piercings are up on the cartilageous areas of the ear (stiff part), do see a doctor to get a prescription strength preparation. Because the areas of the ear with cartilage get much less blood flow than the softer lobe at the bottom, once an infection gets established in the deeper tissues there, it (the infection) can be very difficult to clear up by the normal workings of the immune system, and any oral, or even I.V. antibiotics which might be given later. This results, unfortunately, in a fair number of cases where the only option is to surgically remove the affected part of the ear.

As far as whether the possible ear lobe infection was responsible for the illness you experienced, probably not.

Summary of recommendations:

  1. If piercing went through cartilage, get help NOW.
  2. If redness spreading, or there is any tenderness at all where the ear lobe attaches to the head, get help NOW.
  3. Use soap & water, and your basic over-the-counter antiseptic cream if none of the above apply.
  4. If the redness persists, check with the store that did the piercings; a good reputable store should only use hypo-allogenic metals in new piercings, but others use whatever’s cheapest. If it is a hypoallogenic metal (sterling silver, 14K or higher gold, stainless steel) & your ear is not improving, see your doc.

Hope this helps.

Sue from El Paso

First, let me echo the “go to a doctor” sentiments.

Second, the reason a piercing needle is better for piercings than a gun is that the gun just pushes the earring through your skin. The needle is hollow, and removes a piece of skin the size of the earring. This is why needle piercings heal in a week or so, and gun piercings take months.

Also, anti-bacterial soap has triclosan in it, which is what doctors prescribe (in a more concentrated form) for punture wounds, which is what a piercing is. Bacitracin is for scratches and abrasions. It does have analgesic properties, though, so it might make you feel better.

However, if you ALREADY have systemic septicemia, nothing topical will help. You need an oral antibiotic. Have you had a fever? When your earlobe was red, was your whole ear red, or just the lobe?

Nevermind-- see a doctor.

Shopping is still cheaper than therapy. --my Aunt Franny

I doubt your ear infection is the cause of your illness, Matt, but you can’t be too careful. Septicemia is nothing to laugh about.
Like Sycorax said, you may have an allergy, so you should check to see if your stud is hypoallergenic. As for the chick who pierced your ears, if she’s recommending aloe vera for this purpose she probably doesn’t have a clue. It’s good that she wore gloves, etc., but the source of your infection was almost certainly your very own skin. Skin can’t be sterilized, but before you go putting deliberate holes or punctures in it, you should clean the area with an antibacterial soap or other substance: Hibiclens, iodine, or at the very least rubbing alcohol. Did she do this before she pierced your ear?

Studies have shown that peroxide and iodine slow wound healing. Neosporin or Bacitracin are good if you can get it down through the hole by wiggling your stud. (That sounds sort of kinky ;)) I wonder if Silvadene would help? That stuff is awesome; my husband had third degree electrical burns and the silvadene helped immensely. I use it on my patients at the hospital all the time, and it never fails. I’m not sure if you’d need a prescription, though.

Hey moderator - how come pierced ear infection and constipation (my topic) get a “see your doctor” but Miss Gretchen’s low blood pressure doesn’t, which by the way could be the most serious in terms of needing immediate attention. (Although we teeming millions are correct - she needn’t worry.)

When my ears were pierced many years ago, I was told to clean them with rubbing alcohol. It does sting for a moment if there is some infection, but it works. FWIW, alcohol is also what we were told to use to heal the umbilical cord on our newborn (two years ago), so it can’t be too dangerous.

Rubbing alcohol isn’t exactly a disinfectant; the purpose of using it on the skin is to remove the germ-laden skin oils from the area. (In the hospital, that’s why the nurse rubs your arm with an alcohol pad before she gives you a shot or starts an IV). Alcohol is indeed good for baby’s belly button because it dries out the cord stump, causing it to fall off a bit sooner and keeping it clean in the process.

FYI, the best way to remove ink stains from your skin is with rubbing alcohol. Then put on some lotion.

In re aloe vera gel: she didn’t say to use aloe vera right from the damn plant (I would have freaked and run from the store, not being stupid.) It is a clear product that comes in a tube, and the first two ingredients are deionized water and isopropyl alcohol (which I presume is the active ingredient).

Thanks for the advice.

btw: I am no longer achy or feverish, but I have a hugely stuffed-up nose and laryngitis. At this point I’m pretty certain I just have a run of the mill respiratory tract infection, and am permitting it to run its course. My ear is neither red nor sore now. Thanks to all who offered their advice.