What to Do For an Infected Piercing

Woman with facial and ear piercings
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When you have an infected piercing, your first thought might be to take your jewelry out. While that might seem like the best thing to do, it's best to leave this to your doctor. If your piercing is actually infected, and you remove the jewelry on your own, the bacteria and pus can get locked inside if the hole closes up. Instead, see a dermatologist, who will likely swab the area for culture and start a course of topical and/or oral antibiotics to treat the infected skin piercing. Your derm will likely also want to monitor the area for potential abscess formation throughout your treatment plan.

Heal an infected piercing
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Mild infections can be treated easily enough at home. If it's just a little irritated, slightly red or warm, you can try a few things to clear it up on your own:

  • Make sure it's not being caused by an allergic reaction to your jewelry. If you have a nickel sensitivity, you may not be able to handle jewelry made of nickel-laden metals. Silver, gold, and steel still have small amounts of nickel in them; enough to bother someone who's very sensitive. In this case, niobium or titanium jewelry may be necessary. You can also have allergic reactions to other kinds of metals, even if they don't contain nickel. Always consider the jewelry first if you're having a problem, and have it changed to a high-quality metal if you think that could be the cause.
  • If you don't think the jewelry is the cause, then the source of the infection is probably bacterial. The way to fix that is to kill and/or clear the bacteria. The best way to do that is to start cleaning it twice a day and doing sea salt soaks twice a day; basically treating it like a brand new piercing. The heat and the salt both help to draw out pus and other fluids that may contain bacteria. Hopefully, following that regimen for a few days will clear up an infection in its early stages.

Do not use hydrogen peroxide to clean your piercing. It can cause irritation and lengthen overall healing time.

More serious infections, however, can lead to other serious problems, so if you are oozing thick or green pus, or if the area is seriously swollen and hot to the touch, you should not attempt to clear the infection on your own. You need antibiotics to kill an advanced infection, so please see your doctor. Regardless of the stage of the infection's severity, dermatologists agree that all skin infections should be treated professionally evaluated and treated (usually with something bacterial, bacteriostatic, or bactericidal). Remember, only your doctor can determine how severe your infection is and determine the best course of treatment.

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