Signs of an infection of a pierced ear are tenderness, a yellow discharge, redness, and some swelling.
The most common causes of infection are piercing the ears with unsterile equipment, inserting unsterile posts, or frequently touching the earlobes with dirty hands.
Another frequent cause is earrings that are too tight either because the post is too short (the thickness of earlobes varies) or the clasp is closed too tightly. Tight earrings don't allow air to enter the channel through the earlobe. Also, the pressure from tight earrings reduces blood flow to the earlobe and makes it more vulnerable to infection.
Some inexpensive earrings have rough areas on the posts that scratch the channel and can cause an infection. Inserting the post at the wrong angle also can scratch the channel, so a mirror should be used until insertion becomes second nature. Posts containing nickel can also cause an itchy, allergic reaction.
With proper care, most mild earlobe infections will clear up in 1 to 2 weeks. Recurrences are common if the youngster is not conscientious in ear and earring care.
If the ear is infected, clean both sides of the earlobe with rubbing alcohol. Remove the earring and post 3 times a day and cleanse them with rubbing alcohol.
Apply an antibiotic ointment (a nonprescription item) to the post and reinsert it. Continue the antibiotic ointment for 2 days beyond the time the infection seems cleared.
Pierced earrings should not be worn until a child is old enough (usually older than 4 years) to know not to fidget with them (which can lead to infections) or take them out and put them in her mouth (which can lead to swallowing or choking on them). Ideally, the ears should not be pierced until a child can play an active part in the decision (usually past age 8).
Remind your child that dangling earrings can lead to a torn earlobe requiring plastic surgery. Such earrings should not be worn during sports. Your child should also take precautions while dancing, hair washing, or handling young children who might yank the earrings.
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