Is your stretched ear starting to look a bit funky? While ear stretching is an ancient form of body modification that can be done safely and effectively, infections are possible. Learn the signs and symptoms of what you should watch out for and how to treat an infection if it does develop.
Is It Infected?
You have been slowly stretching your ears for a few months now and noticed that your ears are feeling sore and there is swelling. Ear stretching, or gauging, is a body modification (beautification) where you slowly stretch the lobe or your ear using plugs, expanders, or tunnels. If done right, it is a fairly safe and pain free process. However, like any other piercing, stretched ears can get infected. Infection can stem from several causes including bacteria, allergies to jewelry, stretching too quickly, and improper stretching care, like contact with dirty hands.
Symptoms of Infection
Depending on how you choose to stretch your ear, either through tapering, professional stretching, weights, and so on, your lobes might be a bit sore as you are stretching. This tenderness should only last for a few days and is completely normal. However, if your stretched ear is infected, it will have some very distinct symptoms, according to WebMD. These include:
- Redness and swelling lasting more than a few days that appear to be getting worse. Stretching your ears causes tiny tears within the skin; however, these tears should heal within a few days and start to feel better. If you notice increased swelling and redness, infection might be possible.
- If you stretch your ear too quickly, you might experience slight bleeding. This becomes a concern when the bleeding is excessive or accompanied by pus or discharge. Pus is your body's way of trying to fight an infection. You might also notice an abscess, which is a pocket of pus on the lobe.
- Fever or swollen lymph nodes are also signs that your body is trying to fight an infection. This in conjunction with the other symptoms could mean that you need to seek professional diagnosis from a medical doctor, since a fever could be a sign that the infection has progressed from your ear.
Treating Infection at Home
In most instances, you can treat your infected stretched ear at home. However, if you have a fever, severe swelling, red streaks, disorientation, excessive discharge, or symptoms lasting longer than a week, you should seek the care of a physician immediately. This infection might require antibiotics.
If you are having mild symptoms or just started experiencing symptoms, there are a few things that you can try at home, according to The Piercing Bible.
Don't Remove Your Jewelry
While it might make sense to take out your expander or plug, removing it might promote an abscess. Therefore, you don't want to totally remove your jewelry. If you have swelling, you might switch to a smaller gauge, but having the jewelry in can help the infection to drain.
Wash Your Hands
Before touching your piercing, you want to wash your hands. Using unclean hands can add more bacteria. On the same note, you want to try not to touch your piercing if at all possible, unless you are cleaning it. Unnecessary touching can delay healing or possibly make the infection worse.
Soak Your Piercing
Several websites, like Pierced & Modified, suggest soaking the stretched ear in a saline soak, comprised of sea salt and water. While recipes vary, a quarter teaspoon of sea salt to a cup of water is usually recommended. You want to soak the piercing typically twice a day for five minutes or more.
Apply an Antibiotic Cream
Antibiotic cream can help to fight bacterial infections within the ear. You want to ensure you use a cream, not an ointment, so the piercing can breathe.
Avoiding an Infection
While infection can happen, there are steps that you can take to help to mitigate your risk before, during, and after stretching your lobe. No matter what stage you are in, it is vital to always wash your hands any time you are touching the piercing.
Before beginning your stretching journey, it can be helpful to talk to a professional piercer. They can suggest a slow, gradual process for stretching your ears safely and effectively. Additionally, they can offer you guidelines for daily care and jewelry to help minimize your risk for infection. It can also be helpful to have a professional piercer perform the stretching since they will have sterilized tools and jewelry on hand.
The best advice for expanding your ears is to go slow. This is not a race. While you might want to see results immediately, going slow and following the recommended guidelines can lessen your risk for infection and complications, like blow outs. Therefore, you want to follow a recommended schedule and give your body lots of time to heal before moving up.
It's also important to listen to your body. Not everyone heals the same and if it still hurts, give it a little extra time to heal.
Additionally, you'll want to ensure the jewelry that you use is sterile. Purchasing sterilized jewelry from a tattoo or piercing parlor is recommended. Speaking of sterilization, you'll also want to make sure that things that touch your ears, like headphones and pillows, are cleaned regularly to avoid transferring bacteria to your healing lobes.
So, you've made it! Your ears are finally at the gauge you want them, and you think you're in the clear, right? Sorry, but no. You still have to regularly clean and maintain your piercing to ensure that nothing nasty can get in it. When changing jewelry, you'll want to ensure it is sterile and your hands are clean. You'll also want to ensure that you routinely clean your stretched ears to prevent bacteria.
An Expanding Issue
Ear stretching is a form of body beautification that has increased in recent years. While this is generally a safe and pain free practice, there are some symptoms that you should watch out for if you think an infection is developing. While this can be effectively treated at home in the early stages, progressive infections should be looked at by a physician or medical professional. Even though the risk for infection can't be completely mitigated, washing your hands, expanding slowly, and always using sterile jewelry are steps in the right direction. Now that you know what to watch out for, happy expanding!