Piercing of the ears is common and is usually done without major problems developing. Minor complications are common, and when the rare serious complication does develop, the result can be disfiguring, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Anyone considering ear piercing should be aware of warning signs that may signal a problem.
According to the AAFP, 35 percent of people in one study had complications from ear piercing. Minor infection was the most common problem. Allergic reactions to metals in earrings can also occur. Keloids, which are areas of overgrown scar tissue, may also develop. Sometimes earrings become embedded in the earlobe, and the ear can be torn if an earring is pulled. If proper precautions are not taken, it may be possible for diseases like hepatitis and HIV to be spread through ear piercing.
Infection may be caused by unsanitary piercing conditions or improper care of pierced ears. Nickel allergies can cause irritation when there is contact with nickel in earrings. Embedded earrings can be caused by a piercing gun being used on a person with thick earlobes.
Infected piercing sites may be red, swollen, warm and have discharge. Symptoms of a nickel allergy may include itchy, dry skin and a rash that may blister, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Keloids appear as lumpy red, pink or flesh-colored scar tissue, and they may itch, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Minor infections of the piercing site can usually be treated with topical antibiotic ointment, according to the AAFP. People with nickel allergies should opt for nickel-free earrings. Keloids may be reduced in size by surgery, laser treatment, freezing or other procedures performed by a doctor. Tears may need to be repaired by a doctor.
Choose a reputable ear piercer, and follow all directions for the proper care of newly pierced ears. Choose earrings with longer posts and adjustable backs to prevent embedding if you have thick earlobes. Avoid nickel earrings if they irritate your skin. Prevent tearing by not wearing long, heavy earrings on a regular basis. Do not wear loops or long earrings when playing sports or participating in other activities where they might be pulled.
Seek medical attention if you have signs of infection along with fever, or if the redness is spreading beyond the site of the piercing. High ear piercings, which pierce through cartilage, can lead to more serious infection that can cause deformity of the ear. Call your doctor if a piercing at the top of the ear becomes infected. See or call your doctor about any tearing of the ear or embedded earrings.