Symptom Definition

  • Area around pierced earring is red, tender, swollen, warm to touch, torn or lacerated

General Information

  • About 30% of people who have their ears pierced experience minor complications in the first few days or weeks after piercing.
  • Complications include:
    • Localized infection at earring site or spread of infection to entire ear
    • Skin allergy (contact dermatitis) from nickel (contained in some earrings)
    • Back of earring becomes lodged inside the earlobe
    • Tear of earlobe due to pulling on the earring


Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Earring has torn completely through the ear lobe
  • Skin around the piercing site is split open or gaping
  • Bleeding at the piercing site has not stopped after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Earring back is stuck inside the earlobe
  • Ear pain and the entire ear is red or swollen
  • Ear pain and you have a fever

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9am and 4pm) If:

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Minor tear in your earlobe and your last tetanus booster was over 10 years ago

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If:

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Symptoms not improving after 3 days of treatment at home
  • A hard round scar has developed at the earring site during the last couple months

Self Care at Home If:

  • Localized redness and tenderness only at the earring site, and you don't think you need to be seen
  • Small amount of discharge at earring site, and you don't think you need to be seen
  • Small tear in earlobe from earring injury, and you don't think you need to be seen


  1. Localized Redness Or Discharge At Earring Site:
    • Remove the earring from the ear three times a day. Clean the earring and post with rubbing alcohol.
    • Wash away any crusting or discharge from the earlobe using soap and water.
    • Gently clean the holes on both sides of the earlobe with rubbing alcohol and some gauze.
    • Apply Bacitracin ointment to the earring post and to the earlobe holes and reinsert the earring. Bacitracin is an antibiotic ointment that can be obtained over the counter.
  2. Newly-Pierced Ears:
    • Don't remove the earring.
    • Use a cotton swab ("Q-Tip") dipped in alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean the earring post and skin three times a day.
    • Rotate (turn) the earring several times each day to prevent the skin from sticking to the post.
  3. Self Care For Small Tear:
    • For bleeding, use gauze or a towel to apply direct pressure to the area for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the earring and keep it out for 3-5 days.
    • Wash the area with soap and water.
  4. Prevention Of Allergic Reaction To Nickel: Some people have a skin allergy to nickel. Wear earrings with posts made out of 14 K gold or surgical steel.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You are not improving after 3 days
    • You become worse or develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2003 David Thompson, M.D. FACEP

Reviewed 8/2003

Revised 7/2002

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