Is My Ear Stretching Infected?

Updated October 5, 2022
Young woman with ear pierced

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 that is a fairly safe and pain-free process. It involves inserting increasingly larger gauges of earrings into your ears until they reach the size you want.

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.

If you have an infected stretched ear it might be swollen and oozing. Infected guages aren't fun. Learn the signs and symptoms of what you should watch out for and how to treat an infection if it does develop. If you have severe swelling, red streaks, or fever, seek the advice of a healthcare professional immediately.

Symptoms of Infected Guages

Ear stretching can take months to even years, depending on how big you want to go. While ear stretching is an ancient form of body modification that can be done safely and effectively, infections are possible.

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 the Cleveland Clinic.

Swelling

Look for redness and swelling lasting more than a few days that appears to be getting worse. Stretching your ears causes tiny tears within the skin, according to the Association of Professional Piercers (APP). However, these tears should heal within a few days and start to feel better. If you notice increased swelling and redness, an infection might be possible.

Discharge

If you stretch your ear too quickly, you might experience slight bleeding, according to APP. 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 infection. You might also notice an abscess, which is a pocket of pus on the lobe.

Fever

Fever or swollen lymph nodes are also signs that your body is trying to fight infection. This, in conjunction with the other symptoms, could mean that you need to seek a professional diagnosis from a healthcare professional since a fever could be a sign that the infection has progressed from your ear.

Symptoms and Treatment for Infected gauges infographic

How to Treat an Infected Stretched Ear at Home

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 healthcare professional immediately. This infection might require antibiotics. Mild soreness, redness, weeping, and inflammation can indicate that you stretched too far, went too quickly, or are having a reaction to the stretching material, according to APP. You can try a few things at home to alleviate your discomfort.

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

The APP suggests 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. Make sure to pat your piercing dry afterward.

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. The APP states for you to avoid Bactine or other products containing benzalkonium chloride.

Apply a Warm Compress

Cleveland Clinic notes that a warm compress can be helpful in reducing swelling and inflammation in the piercing. A homemade rice compress can be helpful.

Downsize Jewelry

Many individuals want to know how to heal an infected ear without downsizing, but in some instances, downsizing is a necessity. If the piercing is significantly irritated, the APP recommends going down to your previous size. This is especially true if the issue started after you added a new gauge. After going down to your previous size, you'll want to wait, at least, a few months before trying to stretch further. Stretching is a slow process that requires a lot of patience.

If you are still having issues after trying these methods, seek out your piercer or a healthcare professional. Additional care may be required for your ear.

How to Avoid an Infected Stretched Ear

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 Stretching

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.

During Stretching

The best advice for expanding your ears is to go slow, according to APP. 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, thinning, blowout, or total loss of piercing. Therefore, you want to follow a recommended schedule and give your body lots of time to heal before moving up. Following these tips can be helpful.

  • Allow the body sufficient time to heal (several weeks or months) before moving up. You should be able to comfortably remove the jewelry before going up.
  • Don't force the piercing into the hole. Be gentle and go easy.
  • Ensure the jewelry that you use is sterile. Purchasing sterilized jewelry from a tattoo or piercing parlor is recommended.
  • Listen to your body. Not everyone heals the same and if it still hurts, give it a little extra time to heal.
  • Make sure that things that touch your ears, like headphones and pillows, are cleaned regularly to avoid transferring bacteria to your healing lobes.
  • Massage and moisturize the lobe to promote circulation and healing.
  • Only go up one gauge at a time. Going up a half gauge is an even better option.

After Ear Stretching

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.

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Is My Ear Stretching Infected?