Piercing the small cartilage nub of the ear, known as the tragus, has been increasing in popularity. And while they look great once healed, tragus piercings often become infected.

This may be because hanging hair exposes piercings along the ear to more bacteria. Not only can dirty hair introduce new bacteria to a fresh piercing, shampoos and other hair products can also irritate the area.

Hanging hair can also get caught in a tragus piercing and irritate the hole. This can prevent wound healing and leave your piercing even more susceptible to infection.

Keep reading to learn what symptoms you can expect during the healing process, plus how to identify and treat an infection.

In the first two weeks after your piercing, it’s normal to experience:

  • temporary throbbing
  • mild discomfort
  • redness
  • slight heat or warmth
  • clear or light yellow discharge

Although your piercing won’t be completely healed for about eight weeks, these symptoms shouldn’t last more than a week or two after the piercing is done. If you notice any unusual changes, speak to your piercer as soon as possible.

You should also see your piercer if you experience any of the following symptoms of infection:

  • swelling that lasts longer than 48 hours
  • an uncomfortable and persistent warmness
  • ongoing inflammation and redness at the site
  • severe pain
  • excessive bleeding, with or without pus
  • a bump at the front or back of your piercing site
  • pus with a dark color or odor

Your piercer is the best person to give you information about your treatment options. Until then, there are a few things you can do to help ease your symptoms and potentially clear up the infection.

Your hands can carry bacteria, so it’s important not to play with your piercing. You should only touch it when you’re going through your cleaning routine, and only after you’ve washed your hands.

It’s also important not to remove the jewelry your piercer has inserted. If you find it irritating or tight, visit your piercer. If your jewelry does need changing, they’ll do it for you.

Most piercers recommend a daily cleaning routine for the first four to eight weeks after your piercing is done. However, the duration can vary according to your skin type and overall health.

Cleaning the area two to three times per day is considered standard. Your piercer can provide you with information that’s specific to you and your piercing.

With saline solution

A saline solution is the safest and most effective way to clean your piercing. Your piercer may provide you with a ready-made saline solution. Saline solutions can also be purchased at the pharmacy.

To clean your piercing:

  1. Soak a clean piece of paper towel in the saline solution and gently apply it to the pierced area.
  2. Hold the towel firmly against the area to thoroughly soak the piercing site.
  3. You want to apply the solution in such a way that it softens any crust and seeps into the pierced hole. This means you may need to soak a new piece of paper towel and use several applications.
  4. Continue the process for about five minutes, or until all the crust around your piercing has softened and separated from the skin.

With sea salt soak

Sea salt water is a type of saline solution that can be made at home. It’s often cheaper than purchasing a ready-made saline solution.

To make a sea salt solution:

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt to an 8-ounce glass of warm water.
  2. Use a clean spoon to stir the mixture until the all of the salt dissolves.
  3. Then, follow the cleaning instructions outlined above using your sea salt solution.

Don’t use

There are a number of products that should be avoided because they can damage the healing cells.

These include:

  • rubbing alcohol
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • Hibiclens
  • Bacitracin
  • Neosporin
  • ointments
  • ear care solutions

If you’re ever unsure about a product’s safety, talk to your piercer.

You can also apply a warm compress to help encourage faster wound healing.

Although a warm towel can do the trick, chamomile tea bags are an unexpected way to stimulate the area and promote healing.

To make a chamomile compress:

  1. Soak a chamomile tea bag in a cup of hot water.
  2. Let the bag steep for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Dip a paper towel into the solution, and apply to your piercing for 5-10 minutes.
  4. You may need to soak and apply a new paper towel halfway through to retain the warmth.

If you have a ragweed allergy, skip the chamomile. It may cause an adverse reaction.

A mild antibacterial product, such as benzalkonium chloride, may also be helpful. Your piercer may recommend that you dilute the cream with an equal amount of water for easier application.

Take care not to confuse antibacterial cream with ointment. Ointments are thick, which can put a barrier over the piercing site. This can prevent proper air circulation to the area, which can worsen your symptoms.

Cleaning your piercing is key, but it isn’t the only thing you should do to help speed up the healing process or clear an infection.

You should

  • Keep your bedding clean. Whether you’re rolling around on your pillow or tangled up in your sheets, your ears are taking a beating. Regularly changing your bedding can limit the number of bacteria coming into contact with your ear.
  • Avoid aggravation. Skip the overhead shirts until after your piercing has healed, as they may catch on your piercing and further aggravate it. You should also be careful pulling loose shirts and scarves on and off.
  • Stay out of the water. It’s best to avoid baths, swimming pools, or long periods under the showerhead, especially for the first two weeks.
  • Look after yourself. Stay healthy during the healing process. Drugs, alcohol, and smoking can delay wound healing.
  • Pay attention to hygiene. Remember, always wash your hands before touching your piercing.

If you experience uncomfortable irritation at the piercing site, or your jewelry feels tighter than it should, resist the temptation to scratch your piercing or remove your jewelry.

Instead, schedule an appointment with your piercer. If new jewelry is required, they can replace it for you. They can also provide you with more detailed information on how to care for your piercing and ease any symptoms you may have.