Ear piercing has gone from a trend to a tradition. And with so many parts of the ear available to pierce (think: tragus, helix, the always popular earlobe or all three), it could be just the style accent you need.
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But before you (or your child) join the land of the pierced, get answers to some of the most common piercing questions from dermatologist Rachel Ward, MD.
Q. What happens when you get your ears pierced?
A. If you go to a doctor’s office — whether it’s a pediatrician or dermatologist — they mark where you want the piercing and use an ear piercing gun. The piercing gun has a spring. When the trigger is released, the rapid spring motion pushes the earring through the ear.
Some tattoo and piercing shops use hollow-bore needles instead. Hollow-bore needles are the needles used when starting an IV. As they push through, they create a tiny hole in the earlobe or cartilage. They’re a little gentler than piercing guns because there is no spring action.
Q. Will it bleed?
A. It depends on the part of the ear and person — everyone is different. You may see a little drop of blood, but there shouldn’t be much. If there is a lot of bleeding, you should seek medical help right away.
You may also bleed more if you take blood thinners or aspirin.
Q. Does getting your ears pierced hurt?
A. That also depends on you and your pain threshold. You may feel a pinch and some throbbing after, but it shouldn’t last long. The pain from either piercing method is probably equivalent.
The ear has nerves all through it. But the fatty tissue in the earlobe has less than other areas, so it may feel less painful.
Q. How can you minimize the pain?
A. Putting an ice cube or ice pack on your ear before the piercing can help. The cold numbs the area and confuses the brain about where the pain’s coming from.
I don’t recommend taking aspirin or ibuprofen beforehand because they tend to thin your blood and could cause more bleeding. But taking an extra-strength acetaminophen an hour before your procedure could help.
If you have a fear of needles or pain, we can certainly give you a numbing cream ahead of time. But in general, most people are fine with just ice.
Q. How young is too young to get your ears pierced?
A. Unless the child has some underlying condition, getting a baby’s ears pierced is fine. This is more of a cultural consideration than a medical one. Some cultures pierce their baby’s ears as early as a couple of months old.
If you do decide to get your baby’s ears pierced, the earrings should be flat studs that are close to the earlobe. Babies’ hands are all over the place. You want to make sure they can’t pull them out.
Q. How do you take care of newly pierced ears?
A. Good ear care is important. You’ve created an opening in your skin, so there’s a risk of infection. To prevent it, follow these three tips:
1. Regularly clean your pierced ears
Clean the area twice daily with mild soap and water. If you take a morning shower, clean it then and again right before bed. You can also use those little rubbing alcohol squares. Avoid using antibiotic ointments unless directed by a doctor — you can develop allergies to them if you use them too long.
2. Don’t take your earrings out too soon
Leave your earrings in for at least six weeks if they’re in your earlobe. Since cartilage doesn’t heal as quickly as earlobe tissue, keep cartilage piercings in longer — at least three to four months. After that, only take earrings out for short periods because the holes can still close fast.
3. Know which earrings to wear
When you do switch earrings, make sure they’re made from hypoallergenic materials so they won’t cause an allergic reaction. Fourteen-carat gold, medical-grade steel and titanium are the best. They should not contain alloys such as nickel (which you often find in costume jewelry) because you can develop a sensitivity.
Q. How do you know if you have an infected ear piercing?
A. It’s normal to have some redness, swelling or pain for a couple of days after getting your ears pierced. But your ears should look and feel better each day.
If you find that your ears do great and then suddenly start to become red, inflamed or crusty a week or two later, that’s usually a sign of infection.
If you think you have an infected ear piercing, it’s best to go to someone who can diagnose and treat you. That may not necessarily be the person who pierced you. Seek out your primary care provider, dermatologist or even an urgent care facility.
Q. What are reputable ear piercing places?
A. Your physician, pediatrician or dermatologist should know what they’re doing if they offer ear piercing services. But some jewelry and department stores, as well as tattoo or piercing shops, pierce ears, too. If you go to an ear piercing place outside of the medical field, make sure it’s:
- Licensed: The store or studio should have any licenses required by your state’s health department.
- Clean: The ear piercing place should follow proper sanitary guidelines such as wearing gloves. If you go to a piercing or tattoo specialist, you should be able to see them open the pre-sterilized, new instruments they will use for your piercing.
- Transparent: You should be able to get satisfying answers about licensure and cleanliness. Any place that tries to avoid your questions or answers them inappropriately is a red flag. They get safety questions all the time. They should be able to give you details about their certifications and qualifications.
Q. What would prevent you from getting your ears pierced?
A. Getting your ears pierced is a low-risk procedure. But speak to a medical professional before getting your ears pierced if you:
- Take blood thinners.
- Have a medical condition that causes you to have blood issues, such as problems clotting.
- Have an autoimmune condition that can be triggered by trauma.
- Are immunocompromised because of a preexisting condition or medications you take.
- Have a family history of keloids (excess scar tissue that forms balls or knots) or are prone to keloids.