I have been piercing ears in my office for 10 years and have gotten quick a few parent and media calls recently on the topic. I treat infected ear lobes on a daily basis from patients who get their ears pierced elsewhere (local jewelry and tween stores). With the medical ear piercing system I use in my office (I’m not selling or promoting it) I rarely see infections or allergy or irritation to earrings. Here are answers to the most common questions about ear piercing.
What age is best?
Wait until after 4 months to make sure your baby’s ear lobes are developed and she has received her first two tetanus vaccines. Although I do pierce many baby ears, I personally prefer to wait until a girl is old enough to want her ears pierced and to care for her ear own lobes and earrings. Toddlers and preschoolers can be challenging because they often won’t sit still. I prefer not to hold down a child for a solely cosmetic procedure. I’ve also had a few kindergartners who after one side, refuse to get the other side pierced, so make sure your daughter really wants her ears pierced before you start.
What should piercing studs be made of?
Look for piercing studs without nickel, in fact without any metal may be preferred. This is especially important if there is a history of irritation or infection with piercings or previous piercings in same spot. I prefer to use medical grade plastic (yep, plastic. no metal at all in earring). This decreases risk of irritation and infection later on in life. Titanium or nickel free stainless steel is also fine. All equipment must be sterile, of course. I use a piercing gun with piercing studs embedded in a disposable cartridge.
How to you ensure the holes are symmetric?
Nobody has perfectly symmetrical earlobes, so when placing dots I take accurate measurements, but also look to make sure the holes are visually symmetric or look good. I tell parents that I can hit the dot exactly, so I want them to make sure they like the position of the dots before we go ahead and pierce.
Other factors to consider:
Make sure your child does not have soccer, karate or another sport where she has to remove piercing studs for at least 2 months or holes will close. Also, it’s best to avoid hanging or heavy earrings for at least 6 months after a new piercing as it can pull on the hole and create a larger or elongated hole.
How long should you wait before changing earrings?
Ideal time to leave in piercing studs is 2 – 6 months because piercing studs are a bit thicker and over time the holes contract. If piercing studs are left in place too long, you may end up with a larger hole. For infants, I like to wait 3 months, but older children and teens can switch out their earrings after 2 months.
What’s the best way to care for earlobes after piercing?
Always wash hands before touching ear lobes as initially the hole is essentially an open sore. I have seen school aged girls who touch their earlobes or play with their earrings all day and end up with an infection.
Use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide (personally prefer rubbing alcohol) and clean the front and back twice a day for the first month, then at night or after bathing for the next month.
Continue cleaning your earlobe and earrings with rubbing alcohol every time you put new earrings on to prevent infection.
Signs to look for after piercing that something may be wrong.
Although I’ve never seen an infection in ears I have pierced, I often see infections from piercings done elsewhere.
If there is any soreness, redness or pus at the site of piercing, see your doctor right away.
Sometimes, if it is a mild infection or irritation I can save the earring, by cleaning and using a strong antibiotic ointment at the site. Sometimes it is worse and the earring needs to be removed, oral antibiotics are prescribed and after a period of time (6 to 12 months) the ear can be re-pierced (in this case I recommend re-piercing with plastic). Rarely the infection is so bad that the earring backing is swallowed up by the earlobe. This can be challenging to remove the earring backing from the ear lobe and clear up the infection. As you can imagine, it’s no fun for the patient either.
Take home message:
If you are considering piercing your daughter’s ears, please find a trained professional, be diligent about keeping the area clean and see your pediatrician right away if there is any sign of infection or irritation.
Enjoy your new earrings!