After years of treating infected ear lobes in babies, children and teens who got their ears pierced at a mall jewelry store, I figured there had to be a better way. I researched, tried out a few methods, found my favorite medical ear-piercing system and now have been piercing ears in my pediatric office for 15 years. Here is what you need to know before you get your child’s ears pierced (or your own)!
It’s best to wait until after 4 months of age to make sure a baby’s ear lobes are well developed and she is otherwise growing and developing well (and has had her first two sets of vaccines). Although I do pierce many baby ears, I personally prefer to wait until a child is old enough to want to get her ears pierced, be able to care for her ear lobes on her own and sit still for the piercing procedure. It’s tricky to pierce a moving toddler and I prefer not to hold down a child for a solely cosmetic procedure. I’ve also had a few 5 year olds who after one side, refuse to get the other side pierced.
Look for piercing studs made without nickel, in fact without any metal may be preferred, especially if there is a history of previous piercings, jewelry irritation or ear lobe infection. I like to pierce with medical grade plastic (BPA free). This decreases the risk of irritation, infection and jewelry allergy later in life. Medical grade titanium is also fine. Everything that touches the ear lobe should be sterile and disposable, so only used to pierce one ear, and then thrown away.
It’s rare to have perfectly symmetrical earlobes. Most of us have one a tiny bit longer or wider than the other, and that’s ok. When placing dots, I take accurate measurements from the patient’s face and bottom and top of the ear lobe, but I also look to make sure the holes appear visually symmetric and look good. I tell parents that I can hit the dot exactly, so I want to make sure they like the placement of the dots before we go ahead and pierce. Usually center or 1 millimeter below center of the lobe is a cosmetically good spot. Take into account that as kids grow, their ear lobes may elongate slightly, and you don’t want to be an adult with high earring holes!
Removing piercing studs:
The ideal time to remove piercing studs is 2 to 6 months after piercing. Piercing stud posts are a little bit thicker than normal earring posts and over time the holes will slightly contract. Make sure that your child doesn’t participate in an activity such as soccer or karate where earrings may need to be removed for competitions for the initial 2 months after piercing. In babies I like to leave the piercing studs in for 3 months just to make sure the holes are set as they tend to close up more quickly in infants if earrings are left out for a while (or even overnight). Whenever you put new earrings in your child’s ear lobes (or your own) it’s a good idea to clean the lobe and earring post with rubbing alcohol.
Always wash hands before touching ear lobes as initially the hole is an open sore. This is especially important in school aged kids who tend to like to touch their ear lobes and earrings.
I prefer to use rubbing alcohol to clean the lobes twice a day for the first month, then once a day for a month, but hydrogen peroxide is another option. Whenever you change your earrings, always clean your lobe and the earrings with rubbing alcohol to prevent infection.
Signs that something is wrong:
Infections can easily occur from piercings not done in a sterile environment, dirty hands touching ear lobes, cheap metal or too tight earring backings. If there is any soreness, redness, swelling or pus at the site of the piercing, see your doctor right away. Sometimes, if it is a mild infection or irritation, I can save the piercing by cleaning the lobe, changing to medical grade earrings and using a strong antibiotic ointment at the site. However, in more serious infections, the earrings need to be removed, oral antibiotics taken and after a period of time (6 to 12 months), the ear can be pierced again (in this case I recommend plastic piercing studs). Rarely the infection is so bad that the earring backing gets swallowed up by the earlobe and that can be a challenge to get out and clear up the infection.
Now that you know what to ask about and look for when deciding on whether or not to get your child’s ears pierced, take a deep breath. It’ll be ok, as people have been piercing ears since the beginning of time. That said, with a little knowledge and a great medical ear-piercing provider, your little one can have beautiful earrings to last a lifetime.
Enjoy your new piercings!