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Piercing Infection Care, Cleaning, Treatment, Signs and Symptoms

What are the symptoms or signs of an infected piercing and how to treat, heal or cure piercing infections? How do to clean an infected piercing and what are some of the infected body piercing care tips to ensure quick healing and avoid further spread of the infection to other parts of your body? 

Infected piercing is not a problem of fresh or healing piercings but also old piercings. You could get infection after months or after years. Do not be surprised if this happen to you i.e. if any of your piercing type is infected.

Popular types of piercings

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care for Piercing Infection with Pictures
Infected Piercing Signs

Piercings are becoming very popular especially among the younger generation. Of course, there are many type of piercings which include conch, daith, dermal, earlobe, eyebrow, hip, Monroe, nostril, rook, smiley, surface, web, Labret, tunnel, ear, tragus, bridge, anti-tragus, lip, tongue,  belly button, industrial, cartilage genital and piercings on breasts. All these of body piercings are vulnerable to infections if proper care is not taken.

What causes piercing infections?

These infection are usually caused by bacteria, yeast, fungi and other pathogenic microorganisms due to poor piercing and personal hygiene (such as touching the piercings with dirty hands, using unsterilized piercing needles, swimming contaminate water, using dirty contaminated bedding, etc.). Furthermore the use of wrong jewelry (too small or wrong materials) of cause allergic reactions. Trauma, injuries are also causes of infected piercings.

Infected piercing signs, symptoms or how to tell if a piercing is infected

How do you tell if a piercing is infected or what are some of the symptoms or signs of an infected piercing? Well, you will be able to know that our piercing is infected by the various signs and symptoms you will have. You need to carefully observe the piercing before to see if you can notice anything abnormal. This applies to both new and old piercings. Some of the common signs you expect to have include:

1. Discharge from piercing site

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Discharge from piercing site
Discharge from belly button piercing site

The first common symptom you might have is discharge from the piercing site. You might have yellowish or greenish discharge that might have a foul smell. This pus-like discharge commonly caused by bacterial infection on your piercing site. You will notice the discharge when the jewelry moves or around your jewelry.  If you have a white discharge, it indicates your infection is minor.

If your piercing has a clear discharge, it is likely to be lymph. This indicates that your piercing is actually healing. It is unlikely you have an infection if you have a clear discharge.

If you do not clean your piercing regularly, you might end up with scabs as crusting or scabbing occurs. Crusting and scabbing will often slow down the healing process of your infection but might be an infection signs on their own. Ensure you clean the piercing well removing any debris that might be building up.

2. Burning sensation due to allergic reaction

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Allergic reaction to jewelry
Allergic reaction to jewelry on belly button piercing

The other common sign you will notice is an allergic reaction. This will be characterized by gaping skin as well as a burning sensation. Sometimes, you might have clear yellow discharges form the piercing site due to allergic reaction.

To deal with allergic reaction, check the jewelry material and ensure it is not what is causing the symptoms. Furthermore, ensure the piercing is not too tight or too lose as this can cause irritation similar to the one of allergic reaction. Finally, allergic reactions can be due to the various body care products you use.

3. Swelling, redness and tenderness

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Swelling, redness and tenderness
Swelling, redness and tenderness on naval piercing

Swelling, bruising and redness are the other common symptoms you might have in case of an infected piercing. It is normal to have some redness, tenderness, bruising and a swollen piercing immediately and for the first few days after a new piercing. Sometimes, swelling, redness and tenderness might be accompanied by hot feeling i.e. the piercing site will feel hot to touch.

However, if the swelling, bruising and redness does not disappear after a few days and darkens, you are likely to have caught an infection. You can relieve swelling by cold compresses and take any anti-inflammatory medications as you treat the infection.

4. Pain and aching

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Painful and arching mouth piercing
Infected painful and arching mouth piercing

Other than swelling, most infections on piercings might be aching and pain. You will tend to have a throbbing or stinging feeling on the piercing site that can be painful.

To help deal with pain and aching piercings, it is recommended to go for some of the over the counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen. They will help calm your nerves down as you seek for further treatment.

5. Abscess and bumps

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Abscess and bumps
bump on an infected tragus piercing

Another common way to tell you have an infected piercing signs is if you have bumps or abscess on your piercing. Abscess, which is basically “a swollen area within body tissue, containing an accumulation of pus” is caused by either poor drainage on the piercing or presence of a foreign material that causes the body to defensively reaction to that foreign material.

Hypertrophic scars can also cause bumps which will have some discharge which will not be pus. This is a sign you have repeatedly irritated your piercing. In case you have bubbles or bumps on your piercing site, you can try applying aspirin, chamomile teabags, tee tree oil, sea soak among other home care remedies. The bump should disappear a few days.

6. Bleeding

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Bleeding Piercings
Infected Bleeding earlobe Piercings

Bleeding is not a common signs of infected piercing you will notice, especially for old piercing. However, it does occur in some cases. For new piercing, bleeding is normal but it should last for a short period of time. Trauma and injuries can also cause bleeding of a piercing site. This might not indicate any sign of infection but will potentially increase the chances of getting an infection.

If you have bleeding, you can apply some pressure on the piercing to stop bleeding before going to a health care professional for further treatment. Furthermore, avoid wearing your piercing without mirrors if you cannot see the piercing site well, ensure they do not get tugged by anything as they can be torn away easily causing serious injuries.

7. Fever, nausea, chills and loss of function

The other sign of an infected piercing might include cold chills, nausea feeling and fever. This is a likelihood of a more serious infection especially the bacteria or pathogens have become systematic (infected your blood). You need to see your doctor immediately for further treatment since ignoring it could cause a more serious life threatening infections.

Sometimes, you might also have loss of function around the piercing site e.g. your tongue might slow down and make eating or taking impossible. This will also indicate you have an infection, unless it is a new piercing.

It is worthwhile knowing that some of the above signs of an infected piercing might not show especially if you have a mild infection or an infection at early stages.

How to treat an infected piercing, heal or cure piercing infections

The moment you notice any of the signs that indicated your piercing could have caught an infection, you need to ensure you begin treating it immediately. We are going to discuss some of the common ways to treat infected piercings that will include home remedies to heal such infections. So how can you cure piercing infections?

1. Saline solution or salt soak

How to treat infected piercing - Saline solution or salt soak
Saline solution or salt soak for infected piercing

Saline solution, also known as salt soak is one of the most common ways of treating any infected piercing. To prepare you own saline solution at home, mix “1/4 teaspoon of sea salt per egg cup or shot glass of warm water” [nhs.uk]. Saline solution has the ability to heal minor infections or any infections at their early stages since the salt will dehydrate the pathogens that cause infections.

Once you have prepared your saline solution, you can use it in clean the area around your piercing for about 4-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. Q-tip, cotton swabs or cotton balls can be used during the cleaning process depending on where the piercing is. If possible, you can dip the pierced part into the saline solution (earlobe piercing infection can easily be treated by dipping them into your saline solution).

Most piercers and health care professions will also recommend the use of saline solution to clean a new piercing that has not healed complete. Even for people who might be having some infected piercing or bubbles can also saline solution.

2. Warm or cold compresses

How to treat infected piercing Warm or cold compresses on infected nose piercing
Warm or cold compresses on infected nose piercing

Warm compresses can be used to heal an infected piercing faster since it encourages more blood flow to the pierced region. You need to get a clean piece of cloth, dip it in your warm water and apply it on your infected piercing. You should hold the warm piece of cloth on the piercing site until it cools. Repeat the process for about 4-5 minutes, 2-3 times a day. Saline solution can also be used as a warm compress instead of water only.

Alternatively, you can use a cold compress if you particularly have a swollen, painful or aching piercing. Cold compress home remedy will ensure any swelling, bruising or pain reduced. When using a cold compress, ensure you do not apply ice directly on your piercing since it can damage cell tissues around the affected area. Instead wrap the ice on a clean piece of cloth or towel then apply it.

3. Antibiotic ointments, creams and gels

Infected piercing treatment - Antibiotic ointments, creams and gels
Infected piercng antibiotic ointments, creams and gels – Neosporin

The other way to treat an infected body piercing is the use of gels, creams and ointments. Most people do not recommend the use of antibiotic ointments on a piercing that is infected because they claim it affects drainage and slows healing. However, according to webmd.com, the “use of an antibiotic ointment has not been shown to affect healing.” You can get a prescription for the antibiotics to use in case the piercing infection is serious and the doctor has determined that the cause of your infection is bacterial.

Some of the good antibiotic ointments you should try include polymyxin B (such as Polysporin) or bacitracin. However, as you use these antibiotic ointments for an infected piercing, stop using them in case of any irritation or piercing rashes.

For those who have reservations on ointments, they could go for antibiotic creams and gels since these two will not affect the infected piercing drainage as thought by many people.

4. Prescribed oral antibiotics

How to heal infected piercing - Prescribed oral antibiotics
Prescribed oral antibiotics for infected piercing

For severe cases of infected body piercing, doctors might recommend various oral antibiotics. You need to ensure you follow the instructions given and complete your doses. Furthermore, avoid buying antibiotics over the counter because you could not be knowing what the cause of your infection is. In addition, could be having some underlying issues or drug interactions.

Going on with our infected piercing treatment discussion, in case the piercing aches or it is painful, you could go for some pain killers such as Acetaminophen, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen) or aspirin. These medications do not need to be prescribed by a doctor. Simply buy them from your drugstore.

5. Natural remedies for infected piercing

Home remedies for infected piercing Natural remedies for infected piercing
Home remedies for infected piercing – Tea tree oil

Finally on how to heal an infected piercing, you can try various natural remedies that will include putting a few drops of tea tree oil (especially if it has a bump), white vinegar, aloe vera, turmeric, calendula and Indian lilac. You should find further information on each of these infected piercing home remedies before trying them.

Most of these natural products have abilities to fight infections including bacterial ones and they will be very important. If any of the home remedies causes scabbing, scarring, rashes, itching or worsen the infected pierced site, you need to stop using it immediately.

I hope you now know what to do with an infected piercing in terms of treating, healing or curing it. We are going to discuss more on general care tips.

How to clean an infected piercing

Besides the above infected piercing treatments, you need to ensure you properly clean the infected piercing to avoid spread or re-infection. The most recommended products to use in cleaning your piercing is either sea salt solution (saline solution) or piercing solution. So how do you clean infected piercing?

How to clean an infected piercing - Ear piercing cleaning
Ear piercing cleaning
  1. Wash your hands with an antibacterial soap. Scrub your hands for at least 20-30 seconds to get rid of any pathogens, especially bacteria. This will ensure you do not introduced germs to your infection as you clean it.
  2. Dip cotton swabs, Q-tip or sterile gauze into your cleaning solution and gently begin cleaning the area around the piercing site. If you have debris formed due to discharges, they might need more time to be soaked, soften and come off easily.
  3. Try to clean as close to the piercing site as possible ensuring any dirt or debris are completely remove.
  4. Rotate your piercing about 4 times once you are through with piercing. While rotating it, you need to be gentle to ensure you do not get hurt since this can cause bleeding.
  5. Rinse the piercing with distilled warm water before drying it using a paper towel. Avoid using washcloths or hand towels since they could be harboring some germs.

Generally, the cleaning process takes about 3-5 minutes. You can repeat the process twice to three times a day. Cleaning your piercing with an antibacterial soaps and plenty of running water is also recommended.

Infected piercing care tips

When your piercing is infected, it is not just cleaning and treatment that is important. The general care given will ensure you heal fast and you limit any chances of reinfection. Some of the important infected piercing care tips include:

Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care - Redness
Redness on infected belly button piercing
  1. Do not remove your jewelry from your infected body piercing. Removing the jewelry might encourage closing of the wound as well as abscess formation. Remove it only when a doctor recommends.
  2. Ensure clothing, hair or any other thing does not constantly come in contact with the piercing since this could introduce germs. You could bandage to ensure nothing touches it and wear lose clothing.
  3. Avoid using strongly scented moisturizers and soaps since they can irritate the piercing.
  4. Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide since they can cause scabbing and dryness that might lead to piercing scars.
  5. Avoid touching, fiddling or playing with your piercing.
  6. Avoid inexpensive jewelry such as nickel. Instead go for titanium or gold jewelry
    Infected Piercing Signs, How to Treat, Heal, Clean & Care -Bleeding ear piercings
    Infected bleeding ear piercings

Apart from the above infected pierced care tips, you also need to ensure you follow the instructions you were given in case you have a new piercing that is still healing. The DON’Ts and DOs you were given as part of piercing aftercare will be important.

When to visit a doctor?

If your piercing does not seem to improve, the infection spreads to the areas surrounding your piercing site or you have a serious piercing infection, you should visit your doctor for diagnosis and further treatment. Ignoring piercings can lead to a number of health risks including blood infection, damages of tissues around the piercing and much more.

Further recommended reading
References and sources

About Vladmir Kucherov

46 comments

  1. What is the best way to treat an infection?

    • If you are certain you have an infection, see a doctor to assess the extend of infection and prescribe proper treatment which will in most instances involve the use of topical and/or oral antibiotics.

  2. Hi, so I had a swelling next to my belly piercing and I busted it but now it’s become a wound and it’s kinda drying up abit but it has some pass and blood..
    How can I clean it so that the wound can go or what can I do?

    • That is a sign of infection. Clean with saline solution (sea salt and warm water mixture) about three times a day. If you improvement after two or three days, see a doctor for diagnosis and prescription. If you ignore it for long, it might cause a scar.

  3. Hi im 4m india i have gt my ear pierced and npw its itchy its been 3months bt nt reducong the itchy some times infection comes and goes plz suggest any home remedy im using bactrim ontiment wht could be the root cause

  4. I’ve had my belly piercing for about three week now and it’s red and crusty (as in dead skin) around the piercing should I be worried or is it normal this early in the healing process.

  5. I’ve had my belly piercing for about 3 weeks already but it seems to be red and crusty as in dead skin around the piercing should I be worried or is it normal this early in the healing process?

    • Redness and crusty after three weeks seems a long time. Continue cleaning your piercing with saline solution immediately after you have taken a shower. Furthermore use a mild antibacterial soap while taking a shower. If it does not improve after a few days, see your piercer or doctor to check if you have an infection.

    • It is infected so just clean it take it out clean belly button and get new jewel because if u don’t it gets infected badly cause that happened to my industrial so please listen

  6. Hi I have a nose piercing and I just got it Jan 15 and I feel like it’s infected but I don’t know it’s red and I mean it looks kinda swollen but like I’ve hit it a couple times and my girlfriend hair pulled my piercing out once and I hurried and cleaned it after but the lady I got it from said not to use qtips so what do I do before it gets worst

    • I guess that is the effect of ‘disturbing’ your piercing. It should not be removed, touched or hurried cleaning as this will cause injuries and increase chances of it getting infected.

  7. I got my nose pierced last month had to get my stud changed because it was sinked in my skin now the new stud I have is ok but it get crust around it and once I clean it with saline solution it bleeds a little bit should I change my stud again.. Oh and its just bleeding on one side it isnt painful and I don’t have anu puss or anything coming out of it. What can I do

    • Your stud post should not be too short or too long. Go to your piercer to ascertain that the jewelry is the right size. A wrong jewelry size could be behind your crusting.

  8. I got my nose pierced in November. It is infected and my friends told me to use neospioron will that help or make it worse?

    • Hello a small area of skin near my ear piercing is red and sore (painful when touched) it’s a darkish kind of red like it’s bruised no visible puss. What should I do? Do I take the piercing off before applying antibacterial cream?

    • After two month of salt soaks and other stuffs on internet i decided to use polysporin on my nose bump..and boom it magically healed!

  9. I have an infected industrial piercing
    its like a skin coloured bump/a little yellow
    my piercer told me to use tea tree oil
    only today started cleaning it with it but Im very hopefull
    have been dealing with it in this state weeks now:(
    Will let you know if it works

  10. I got my daith percest friend it’s little swirling I clean it

  11. I’ve had my belly pierced for two weeks and idk if the bar is too small but the top hole is a little bit indented like the hole where the bar goes thru it’s normal size it’s when the ball tests and its indented the hole wider it’s also pussing a yellow color and I clean it about 2 a day.

  12. Hello I also have a piercing at the top right corner of my eye brow and it looks like some kind of bump but idk if its infected or not so I tried to buss it and it started to bleed so my boyfriend told me to put some hydrogen peroxide on it and so I did so then after that I put some neosporin on it to clean it what else can I do about it please help.

    • Try usin a different eyebrow ring n keep spraying salt water on it 3 times a day feel better i have 2 eyebrow piercings one got infected but i found using a bigger eyebrow ring n spraying salt water on it 3-4 times a day worked wonders good luck and feel better soon

  13. I had a new ear piercing got infected. The doctor took the earring out and gave me ointment and antibiotics. How can I heal it properly? I’m scared the hole will close up and the infection will still be there? Should I do sea salt soak?

  14. My doctor took out my earring and gave me antibiotics and ointment. I don’t want my hole to close up with the infection still there. Should I do sea salt soak?

  15. I had a white bump on my lip piercing I had it since February now I keep getting this white bump today it pop and yellow discharge came out jus a little is that something wrong ?? Please help

  16. I have a lip piercing had it since February I keep getting this white bump and today it pop and yellow discharge came out of it jus a little I don’t know what that means it don’t hurt or anything. Oh and I have a hoop could that be the problem,? Please help cuz I don’t wanna take it out !

  17. Hi I had my lip piercing since February 18 it was fine but now I have this white bump near the lip piercing (inside ) it’s pop and yellow discharge came out jus a little and it don’t smell tho I clean it daily with SSS and it doesn’t hurt or anything . what could this be ? And I have and a hoop he didn’t do a stud when I got it done at first could this be the problem ?

  18. I have pierced my nose 4 days ago. I have noticed from yesterday that my nose stud which is enough big sinking a bit. 1/2 of the stud has now sinked. is it a sign of infection? if not, will it make my pierced hole big or leave with scar? ehat sould I do now?

  19. Pls,am from Nigerian,i got my nose pierced 3days ago,and am have something like catarhh inside my nostirl. Wat do i do?

  20. I removed my piercing because it hurt too much. what should I do. it’s only 3 and a half days old. it’s a cartilage piercing

  21. Had my eyebrow done when I was seventeen, just recently put a new ring in it .it’s been three weeks and it’s infected I’ve been taking antibiotic for 10 days now still infected, I believe I’m sensitive to the earring. Taking it out know can cause more infection but what do I do if I’m allergic

  22. I got a carilage piercing about 6 months ago, i’ve been treating it with salt soaks, but whenever the bumps disappear i stop. And the bumps return, so its been on and off for six months. I have a tea tree oil care cream, will that help me?
    I plan to do the salt soak and then rub the cream on it after

  23. Hello my name is Norma I have a thermal piercing on my face & its has like a little bump and its popping my pierci out. Can you tell me what to do please ?

  24. Hi, I had my eyebrow pierced with a straight barbell about 3 weeks ago. I was wondering if I could change it to a titanium curved barbell during healing? I’m paranoid it will reject. Also I have. a red lump on the top of my eyebrow, it is really sore, swollen and almost stiff. Please help.

  25. I just peirced my ears today (used the old fashioned safety pin and a pair trick ) and I’m using surgical steel earrings. I was just looking for some little tips so I can keep my ears from getting infected

  26. Hi, i have swollen lobes and a rash developing around my ears, watery fluid coming from the holes, should i see a doctor? Or will salt water work?

  27. I had my daith pierced a week ago and now all of a sudden it hurts really bad all around my ear and my jaw is even hurting and my whole ear and jaw are swollen I called the girl that done it she said to do the salt soak that it would help Well its not and there is a little puss coming out what should I do?

  28. I have had my doubles in my ear lobes pierced since May 2016. I have an infection from an allergenic reaction to the metal. I just got it changed to 14k gold. It has a bump on the back. Will it go away?

  29. I need help I got my nose periced 3weeks ago and it had a black bruise spot around it so I put some teatree oil on it now it turned inoo a white head bump .Irshad been there all week not going away!!

  30. Mitchell atetwe

    Hi I got my cartilage pierced and the area is generally swollen and feels hot what should I do

  31. I think I have an abscess right next to my ear lobe piercing. I’m using the ointment recommended by my doctor but there hasn’t been much improvement. Ever since the abscess formed, it was painful to turn the piercing while cleaning it. Any suggestions?

  32. I recently got my cartilage pierced about 2 weeks ago and it’s starting to get swollen, red, warm, and tender and I have no clue what to do.

  33. I got a cartilage pericing about a week and a half ago. it was doing fine until I started house sitting for a couple who have a bunch of indoor cats. I woke up and its swelled and painful but the discharge is still clearish, the crusty stuff around it sometimes is a bit yellow but other then that it’s fine and it doesn’t smell. so is it infected or is the animals dander in the house bothering it?

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