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How to Treat an Infected Ear Piercing At Home

Home remedies to clear up infections, plus guidance on when it’s time to go to the doctor

Those new earrings sure look cute—but why is your ear feeling swollen, red, or irritated? The likely cause is an infection, which is pretty common, especially in new ear piercings. Fortunately, with the right home care and cleaning, you can typically clear up an infection on your own. Read on to learn how to take care of an infected ear piercing, as well as when it’s time to see your doctor.

Things You Should Know

  • Wash your hands, then gently clean the infected piercing with a saline solution.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment to your ear to treat infections fast.
  • See your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than 48 hours.[1] They may prescribe you with a prescription cream or antibiotics.
  • Newly pierced ears can become infected and can present with pain, redness, swelling and warmth in the treated area. Some of these symptoms will be present as a result of the piercing within the first 24 hours, but this does not mean it is infected.[2]


Home Care

  1. Wash your hands before handling the infected area. Your hands can spread dirt or bacteria that might worsen your infection. Before cleaning or treating the area, wash your hands using warm water and soap.[3]
    • Infected piercings can be caused by touching your ear with dirty hands, so it’s important to give them a quick wash every time you touch your piercing.
  2. Clean the infected area with a saline solution. To make a saline solution, mix 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) of salt into a 1 cup (237 ml) of warm water. Dab a sterile cotton ball or gauze into the solution and gently sweep it over both sides of the ear at the site of the piercing. Do this twice a day to keep the area clean.[4]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 2 Version 6.jpg
    • The area may sting slightly when you use the solution, but it won’t be very painful.
    • Avoid using rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based solutions on the infected area, as these can irritate the area and delay healing.
    • Gently pat the area dry afterwards with a paper towel, tissue, or cotton swab. Avoid using a towel, as it might irritate the ear.
    • If both ears are infected, use a different swab or gauze for each ear.
  3. Apply an antibacterial ointment to heal infections. After cleaning the area, apply OTC antibacterial ointment around the piercing and on the earring itself. Continue to use antibiotic ointment for up to 7 days.[5]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 3 Version 5.jpg
    • Leave the earring in your ear unless you’re told otherwise by a doctor. Removing the earring can irritate your earlobe more, leading to more swelling and redness.
  4. Apply a warm compress to your ear to help relieve pain. To make a warm compress, soak a washcloth in warm water or a warm saline solution. Press the cloth over your ear for 3-4 minutes. Repeat as needed for pain relief throughout the day.[6]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 4 Version 5.jpg
    • Afterwards, dry your ear gently by patting it down with a paper towel or tissue.

Seeking Medical Treatment

  1. Go to the doctor if your symptoms last more than 48 hours.[7] Serious complications can result from an untreated ear infection. If your ear is still sore, red, or oozing pus after a week, make an appointment with your primary care physician. If you have any of the following symptoms, make an appointment:[8]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 5 Version 5.jpg
    • Red, swollen, or throbbing ear[9]
    • Warmth on the area[10]
    • Discharge or pus from the piercing
    • Fever or chills
    • Infections usually develop within 2-4 weeks after the initial piercing, although it is possible to develop an infection even years after getting your ears pierced.[11]
  2. Apply a prescription cream if your doctor gives you one.[12] If your infection is moderate but not severe, you may just need a prescription antibiotic cream. Follow your doctor’s instructions when applying to clear up your infection fast.[13]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 6 Version 6.jpg
    • If your infection is very minor, you may just need to use an OTC cream for longer. Your doctor will tell you exactly what to do.[14]
  3. Take oral antibiotics for more serious infections.[15] If you have a fever or if your infection is severe, your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic pill instead. Take the pill according to your doctor’s instructions. Remember to take the full course of antibiotics, even if your infection seems to go away.[16]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 7 Version 5.jpg
    • Pills are usually needed if you have a cartilage piercing that has become infected, but they can also be used for earlobe piercings.
  4. Get an abscess drained if it has formed. An abscess is a wound with a large build-up of pus. If you have an abscess, your doctor will drain the wound. This is an outpatient procedure that may be done on the same day as your first visit.[17]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 8 Version 8.jpg
    • Your doctor may apply a warm compress to your ear to drain the abscess or they may make an incision in the abscess.

Preventing Infections

  1. Stop touching the ear or piercing unless necessary. If you are not cleaning the wound or removing the piercing, don’t touch your ear. Avoid using clothing or devices too close to your infected ear as well.[18]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 9 Version 7.jpg
    • If you have long hair, keep your hair up in a bun or ponytail so that it doesn’t hang by your ears.
    • Avoid sleeping on your piercing if possible. Keep your bed sheets and pillow cases clean to avoid spreading the infection.
  2. Avoid swimming until the piercing heals. Generally, you should not swim for 6 weeks after getting your piercing. Chlorinated or dirty water can irritate the piercing more, which delays healing.[19]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 10 Version 5.jpg
    • If you’re already dealing with an infection, stay out of the water until the infection clears up.
  3. Wear hypoallergenic jewelry if you have a nickel sensitivity. In some cases, your piercing might be irritated because of an allergy, not an infection. In this case, start wearing earrings made out of sterling silver, gold, surgical steel, or another nickel-free material. These are less likely to cause a reaction.[20]
    Treat an Infected Ear Piercing Step 11 Version 5.jpg
    • Allergies may appear as dry, red, or itchy skin around the site of the piercing.
    • Continuing to wear nickel jewelry if you have an allergy can increase your risk of infection.



  • If you have an infection in your ear cartilage, then see a doctor as soon as possible. Infected cartilage may develop scar tissue if not treated promptly by a doctor.
  • If you have signs of a severe infection, like a fever, chills, or other flu-like symptoms, see your doctor for treatment right away.

Related wikiHows

  • Tell if a Piercing Is Infected
  • Treat Infected Piercings
  • Clean Your Ear Piercing
  • Clean a New Ear Piercing
  • Reopen a Partially Closed Ear Piercing Hole


Quick Summary

Source: Wiki How