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Infected Cartilage Piercings Causes and Treatments


Do you have an infected cartilage piercing? Do not ignore it. In October 2014, dailymail.co.uk reported a story on a student, Bianca Hart, who lost part of her ear, i.e., “when £10 piercing becomes so badly infected her cartilage disintegrated.” This incident perhaps should help you know the need to treat any infections immediately as well as the need to go to a professional piercer.

Pierced areas on the upper part of the ear, the cartilage, are much more dangerous than earlobe and they are prone to infections that are much harder to treat since they hardly respond to antibiotics.

Furthermore, there is a higher prevalence of infection on cartilage than earlobe, i.e., there is a “22 percent infection rate for body piercing overall and a 34 percent infection rate for cartilage piercing,” according to ABC News.

Before we look at some signs, treatments including a case when you have a bump, let us first look at the causes of these infections.

Causes

Infections on any piercings often come as a result that related to the piercing process and the care given to the piercing. Some of the common reasons for ear cartilage piercing infection include the following:

1. Poor and unhygienic procedures

The first and most common cause is the use of unsterilized equipment and poor methods, i.e., unsterilized needle, gun and other equipment as well as piercing it wrongly.

According to webmd.com, there have been reports of “cluster of infections caused by the Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria” in Oregon, US. This bacterial infection has been attributed to the piercing “kiosk using poor procedures that led to multiple people getting infected at the same time” [webmd.com].

2. Inexpensive and wrong jewelry

Secondly, some people suffer from allergic reactions that often lead to more severe infection due to the use of the wrong kind of jewelry.

Nickel, for instance, has been noted to cause allergic reactions in many people. Ensure you only use jewelry made of stainless steel, gold or titanium. Furthermore, avoid going for a post that is too tight or loose.

3. Poor personal hygiene and aftercare

The third cause of infections is not to keep good personal hygiene during the healing process or even years after you have completely healed. Ensure you follow the aftercare routine and never touch your piercing with dirty hands.

Furthermore, tie your hair nicely to ensure it does not touch the pierced area for the first few days after you have you get one and do not let other people touch it either. Your pillow and bed sheets should also be changed and sterilized each day.

Other cause of cartilage ear piercing infection include

  • Physical injuries especially when wearing jewelry, partying, sporting, etc.
  • Over cleaning 
  • Avoid using a piercing gun as it distorts your cartilage and increases chances of you getting a bump behind your year.

Do not be surprised if you have infections after a year or months of it having completely healing. It happens if you are fond of touching or fondling it.

Symptoms 

Scared by the risks of piercings on your ear cartilage, you might be wondering how you would know if it is infected to be treated as early as possible. It is simple. Just look at some of the common symptoms that will never miss. Some of the common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Tenderness and pain in your cartilage
  • Redness of the skin around the pierced site that lasts more than a few days in case of new ones.
  • Discharges from the piercing site on your cartilage that might include pus that might be green or yellowish.
  • The area around the site feels hot
  • The color around the site changes (you have a rash)
  • Fever in severe cases, especially if you have been infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa that cause Perichondritis.
  • Prolonged bleeding.
  • Crust formation and scabbing

There are not the only signs of an infected cartilage piercing. There could be others depending on the cause of your infection.

How to treat, heal, fix it 

With precise knowledge of causes and symptoms of an infected pierced cartilage, it is worthwhile looking at some of the ways to fix or deal with these infections. We will discuss remedies and medications. 

1. Use of strong antibiotics

The first way is by the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are recommended when cellulitis occurs, i.e., the word grows beyond the pierced site. A qualified medical practitioner must first verify that bacteria caused your infection.

Since the cartilage has very little blood supply, use of the ordinarily prescribed antibiotics such as amoxicillin might not help. Get stronger prescriptions such as Cipro. However, Cipro should not be for use by children.

2. Saline solution

For a mild infection, you might need to clean it using saline solution. Saline solution is a natural way to heal infections, and it is often used to care for the piercings during the healing process.

3. Warm compress

To encourage blood flow to the cartilage, go for warm compress preferably using a mixture of water and sea salt.

As you continue with your treatment, it is advisable you adhere to proper nutrition, avoid alcohol and quit smoking to boost blood circulation and ensure you heal fast.

4. Anti-bacterial topical products 

In case you want to use ointment, you need to seek a doctor’s approval since they affect the draining process and this can slow down the healing process. Some of the typical brands to go for include mupirocin ointment or chlorhexidine rinse. 

During the cleaning process, you might also use the piercing solution if your piercer provided you with any. 

Note: Since they cause skin dryness, it is recommended not to use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.

Should I remove the jewelry?

You are not supposed to remove your jewelry once you have an infection since it helps the piercing to drain. 

Removing the jewelry might make the pierced channel to close up or result to abscess characterized by “darkening and hardening of the surrounding tissue, swelling and pain” [bodyjewelleryshop.com] as the infection may get trapped under the skin.

In case of a severe infection, see your doctor or professional piercer who might be in a position to recommend whether you can remove the jewelry or not. Although in very rare, sometimes the jewelry might be permanently removed if there is much destruction of the tissue around the pierced site. However, this is likely to cause deformity of your ear.

Why are cartilage piercings riskier?

If your pierced cartilage gets infected, ensure you get it treated as soon as possible since according to NHS.uk, this piercing is “riskier than earlobe piercings. If the site becomes infected, you may develop a painful abscess. This is because the skin is close to the underlying cartilage and pus can become trapped.”

In case your cartilage has developed an abscess, you need to go for surgery to remove it since antibiotics might not be of much help. Such surgical procedures require removal of the affected cartilage. This is likely to deform your ears.

Other include

  • Hypertonic scarring
  • Boils
  • Perichondritis
  • Keloid formation

What if it has a bump or bubble

Some people may end up with bumps on the back or front part of their ear cartilage. Some of the common symptoms that often accompany an infected cartilage bump include bleeding, pain, inflammation, fever, foul odor and pus oozing.

The formation of this bump can be a result of excessive collagen growth (keloid), infection, use of a gun during piercing process, or just a boil. If you have a bump, some of the ways to treat it include the following:

1. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is perhaps the most efficient way to get rid of any piercing bump. You need to use the cotton ball in applying tea tree oil. It will not only fasten the healing process but also do away with the bump since it has anti-bacterial properties

2. Aspirin

Crush aspirin, add a few drops of water, apply and leave it on the bump 2-3 times a day

3. Chamomile tea

Put a chamomile tea bag in hot water and use it on the affected part until the teabag becomes cold. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes at least two times a day.

4. Sea salt soak

Mix a quarter teaspoon of salt to about 8 ounces of water. Use a cotton ball to apply the solution to your bump. Let the sea salt stay for about 15 minutes before you can rinse it off.

5. Lemon Juice

Add a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice to a small water bowl. Dip a cotton ball into the lemon juice and apply it on the bump. Lemon juice will help get rid this problem.

Cleaning and care

Since cartilages do not get a lot of blood, you expect your cartilage to take longer to heal. The healing process must be coupled with proper care and hygiene.

The most recommended way to clean your piercing will be using saline solution ( a mixture of sea salt and warm water). 

Ensure you thoroughly clean the area, “removing debris; dead tissue, pus, dirt or other foreign material” [bodyjewelleryshop.com]. To make your saline solution, take one teaspoon of pure sea salt (non-iodized) to a short glass of hot water.

Some people will recommend the use of an antibacterial soap in the cleaning process. This is alright unless you have a very sensitive skin.

References and sources
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