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Posted by:
Meghan O'Neal

Posted on: October 18, 2018
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piercing bumps and how to treat them

Image via Instagram by charlie_rose

You’ve gotten the new adorable piercing that you’ve been dreaming of for months, and you start forming unsightly bumps around the piercing site. Uh-oh.

Bumps are fairly common during the healing process for cartilage piercings. Cartilage heals slower than your earlobes, so they are more susceptible to irritation, infection, and other healing mishaps.

Swelling is common the first few days after you get a piercing, but if you’re starting to feel bumps a week after your piercing date, you might need to take action.

Bumps on your ears appear for a number of reasons. Formations occur from poor aftercare, poor piercing practices (which is why you need to research your piercer and pay more for quality), metal allergies, genetics, or simply bad luck. As your piercing heals, it’s important to pay attention to how it’s healing, along with practicing proper aftercare, so that you can head off any issues and avoid permanent damage.

Although many ear bumps can be treated at home, if you have any doubt at all, please go see a doctor. Infections are serious business, and you don’t want your new piercing to be your new nightmare.

I have a pimple-looking red bump next to my piercing

You might have a pustule (sometimes referred to as a piercing pimple). A pustule forms for a number of reasons: you have a tiny, localized infection, your pores have become clogged, or the area has been irritated. Pustules may occur in new piercings or piercings that are many years old. All-in-all, pustules are fairly minor and easy to address.

Prevention

Keeping the piercing area clean, practicing proper aftercare, and refraining from touching the piercing site are all ways to avoid pustules. Unfortunately, you can do everything right, and a pustule may still form.

Treatment

Luckily, you can most likely treat this at home. Although you may be tempted, don’t pop it yourself. The oils on your skin, lancing tools, and extra trauma will only make the pustule worse. You will need to encourage drainage through saline soaks or warm compresses. Soak a gauze or cotton bud in a good saline solution for piercings and place it on your piercing for a few minutes in order to clean thoroughly. If the pustule continues to reappear (which is common), massage the area to break down the pocket so that it doesn’t refill.

The pustule should eventually go away. If it continues to reemerge, or you experience intense pain or a fever, seek advice from a medical professional.

I have a red bump on one side of my piercing OR the tissue around my piercing is red and puffy

You might have a hypergranulation—noncancerous tissue that forms around a wound (which is how your body views your new piercing). Hypergranulations appear due to excess moisture around the piercing site, trauma to the piercing site, or poor aftercare practices.

Prevention

Although hypergranulations can occur in healthy piercings, they are most common in piercings that have been neglected, so (and this won’t be the last time we say this) aftercare, aftercare, aftercare!

Make sure you keep your piercing site dry through the entire healing process. Don’t touch your piercing. Clean your piercing regularly. An never-ever try to lance any bumps near your piercing!

Treatment

Hypergranulation treatment isn’t super difficult and can be done at home. Bathe your piercing in a sea salt bath several times a day to cleanse the area, then be sure to pat the piercing completely dry with a disposable paper towel or gauze (cloth towels may snag you piercing and carry bacteria). You can also use aftercare sprays, but be sure that they aren’t too harsh for your piercing.

Treat your hypergranulation for what it is: an infection. Drink plenty of water. Get rest. Don’t party too hard or do anything strenuous to your body. You should see improvement within a week. If you don’t, please go see your doctor. A hypergranulation can quickly turn into something more sinister and lead to scarring.

My ear has a raised pink/purple/white bump next to the piercing area that appeared a few weeks after my piercing date

You could be experiencing hypertrophic scarring. It occurs as your body’s natural healing process. Typically, hypertrophic scars occur simply because of genetics. Your body is more prone to scarring that others. However, hypertrophic scars can happen if your piercing experiences trauma during healing or chemical irritation from certain products.

Prevention

Unfortunately, if you’re genetically prone to scarring, there’s not much that you can do. Before you get your piercing, you can check to see if this might be an issue for you and make your decision from there. There are treatment options, and hypertrophic scarring does flatten and fade over time, but you will have to deal with a raised scar around your piercing for quite a period of time.

Otherwise, protect your piercing during healing and keep lotions, perfumes, makeup, and other chemical-laden products away from your piercing. When you clean your piercing, be sure that you are using products that are safe for your skin and approved by your piercer.

Treatment

While there are some home treatments you can try, like a saline soak or applying pressure to break down the scar, you should visit your piercer to talk about your options. They may want to switch out your jewelry or recommend other treatments, such as laser therapy.

Mostly, hypertrophic scarring is about time. Silicon gels and topical creams can help speed up the process, but you’ll simply have to be patient and wait for it to fade, just like any other scar.

I have large bumps around my piercing that won’t go away

You might have keloids. Unlike hypergranulation, keloids are quite large and can emerge a little bit away from the piercing site. Keloids appear during healing. When your body works to repair a wound, it produces collagen to strengthen the skin. Sometimes, your body gets a little too excited about this process and creates too much collagen, resulting in keloids.

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Prevention

Your likeliness of developing keloids is mostly genetic. If you’ve had keloids before or if you have a family member who has them, you might want to rethink your decision to get a cartilage piercing. Although there are treatments for keloids, they are expensive, they can be painful, and the keloid will never fully go away. If you’re unsure, you can ask your doctor to perform a test in a discreet area to see if one forms.

If you’re not genetically inclined to get a keloid, don’t think you’re getting away scot-free. Keloids can form if the piercing site is irritated or experiences trauma so, we’ll say it again, proper aftercare procedures for the entire healing process are critical.

Treatment

Unlike the other bumps on this list, there is no clinically-sure way to treat a keloid at home, so you will need to visit your doctor for removal. Some claim that some home treatments, such as applying silicone gel to the keloid, help improve the texture and color of keloids, but you should receive medical help for this condition.

Doctors may try a number of treatment options, although there are no sure methods for removal. They may attempt a ligature, where they tie a surgical thread to the base of the keloid, essentially killing it so that it falls off on its own. Cryotherapy (freezing the keloid) and laser therapy are both common options as well. Surgical measures may be taken, but since keloids are formed from scar tissue, it is likely that the keloids may reappear during healing.

Because keloids are so difficult to treat, it is important to find out if you are genetically susceptible to developing them before getting your cartilage or nose pierced.

General Bump Care

Although there are specific treatment strategies for each type of bump, some general care options exist.

Diluted Tea Tree Oil

Many swear by the healing properties of tea tree oil. Simply dilute the tea tree oil with warm water and apply to your bump several times per day, and you should see improvement. You don’t want the dilution to be too strong, so before applying to the piercing, test your solution by applying it to your forearm and waiting at least 24 hours. If you experience no ill effects, you’re good to go.

Saline or salt bath

Bathing your piercing in a saline or salt bath kills bacteria and helps to ease the infection, leading to healing. Make sure that your bath isn’t too irritating to the piercing or you risk making it worse.

Keep Your Jewelry in the Piercing

If you start seeing bumps, it’s easy to get scared and want to take your jewelry out. DO NOT DO THIS. Your jewelry keeps the piercing open, allowing any fluids to drain, and avoiding abscess. If you think that you need a smaller or less irritating piece of jewelry, see your piercer.

Should I see a doctor?

When in doubt, the answer is always yes. Although many of the bump types we’ve discussed can be treated at home, if they’re left without proper treatment, they could turn into something much worse. It’s better safe than sorry when dealing with your health.

However, you should absolutely see a doctor if you experience:

  • Excessive pain
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Excessive swelling/redness/itching
  • Yellow or green or smelly discharge
  • Fast-growing scars

Never forget that a healing piercing is a healing wound. Treat it with care, keep your body healthy, keep yourself clean, and you’ll end up with a happy, beautiful cartilage piercing.

Key things to remember, is if when in doubt about the health of your piercing, go see your local APP approved piercer and ask him or her for advice.  If you feel that your piercing is infected or it hurts, see a doctor for appropriate treatment.  If you’re following the right steps and it doesn’t look or feel infected, then chances are your piercing will heal just fine after a while.  The key is to keep it clean and don’t mess with it, wear the right jewelry (nickel-free 14k gold or implant-grade titanium) and be patient, as it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for your piercing to be in optimal health.

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