- 1 Ear Piercing
- 2 Kinds of Ear Piercings
- 3 Options: The Types of Ear Cartilage Piercings
- 4 Ear Cartilage Piercing Infections
- 5 Treatment of Pierced Ear Cartilage Infections
- 6 Do’s and Don’ts of After Piercing
According to a recent study, around 83% of Americans had their ears pierced. Among these, 31% had complications and 0.9% were hospitalized. 
Due to its ease, the ears were man’s first tried out body parts to pierce on. In 1991, the oldest mummified body was discovered in Austria. Found to be around 5,000 years of age, the mummy had pierced ears, with holes as big as 7 to 11 millimeters in diameter. 
Kinds of Ear Piercings
Like the human body, which can be pierced anywhere with an integument, the ear can also be pierced at any of its parts. 
Piercing of the Earlobes
The most common kind of ear piercing, this pertains to puncturing a single hole in the middle of each ear lobe. This is usually performed using a piercing gun, after sterilization methods. Piercings of the earlobes usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to heal.
An example of earlobe piercing.
This is a modified method of piercing earlobes. Also known as stretching, the earlobes are pierced using an 18 or a 20 gauge needle. It is done by slowly increasing the size of the ear accessory, persuading the hole to allow the use of larger accessories until one’s desired size is achieved.
A photo showing gauging of ear lobes.
Ear Cartilage Piercing
This is the second most common ear piercing kind to date. In this method, the cartilage, which is the translucent tissue found on the superior part of the ear, is perforated. Because limited blood supply is present in this region, the ear cartilage takes a longer time to heal than earlobes. It usually heals within 8 to 12 weeks, pending complications. This too shall be the main topic of discussion for this article.
A photo showing an example of an ear cartilage piercing
Options: The Types of Ear Cartilage Piercings
A number of types of piercings are present for ear cartilages. These are the following:
The helix of the ears can be located as one follows the external curvature of the ear towards the lobe. The part that is folded interiorly is the helix. It extends from just on top of the lobe to its tip and then bending down slightly to gather at the head. 
Any piercing sandwiched between the apex of the helix and the area where the helix connects with the head is termed as the forward helix, or ear head piercing. The most common of all ear cartilage piercings, this usually heals within 2 to 12 months. [3, 5, 6]
A helix piercing of the ear.
Two piercings connected by a single accessory, called a barbell, comprise the industrial helix piercing. Also called as scaffold piercing, this is usually noted puncturing through the cartilage on the upper ear, with the first hole near the head and the other on the external rim. This usually takes 3 months to 1 whole year to fully heal. [3, 5]
An ear with an industrial piercing.
Also known as vertical piercing, this involves the upper ridge of cartilage between the helix and the ear canal, or the antihelix. It is located between the apex of the helix and the tragus. This area of the cartilage is thicker, thus more pain is elicited on puncture. Healing time takes 2 months to a year’s time. [3, 5, 6]
A photo depicting a rook type of ear piercing.
A small, shallow area where there less layers of cartilage is involved. It is also called horizontal piercing and is located below the external rim on the inner cartilage of the ear, on top of the anti-tragus. It is a more convenient area for piercing, as compared to the rook type. Healing can take 8 weeks to 12 months. [3, 6]
A subject having a snug type of ear piercing.
Also termed as shell piercing, this refers to piercings either at the outer or inner conch. The outer conch is a flat region midway the rim forming the helix, and the ridge that makes up the antihelix. On the other hand, inner conch is the cup shaped region directly anterior to the ear canal. This heals within 8 to 16 weeks. [5, 6]
An image with a type of ear piercing: the conch
This piercing involves the thick oval cartilage directly anterior to the ear canal. Healing time also varies from 8 weeks to 1 year. 
A subject with an ear piercing at the tragus
A small flap of cartilage superior to the ear canal is often involved. The entrance and exit holes of which are not visible. The ear accessory would look as if it is coming out of the ear canal. Like most piercings, it may heal from 8 weeks to 1 year. 
A picture depicting a type of ear piercing: daith
Not a common area for piercing, this is located opposite of the tragus, on the external ear just above the ear lobe. This area is usually too small to be pierced on. Barbells, either curved or straight, are preferable accessories. Healing time is also 8 weeks to 1 year. [3, 6]
An anti-tragus type of ear piercing.
Ear Cartilage Piercing Infections
Infections secondary to ear cartilage piercings may have ensued if symptoms such as pain, irritation, erythema , swelling, and discharge are present. These are often caused by unsanitary techniques of piercing, inadvertent contact of dirt to the just pierced area, wearing of tight ear accessory causing reduced blood flow, or hypersensitivity reactions to the ear accessory. They are often caused either by Pseudomonas aerigunosa or Staphylococcus aureus, and may take 2 to 4 weeks before these symptoms occur.[7, 8]
The risk of having these infections may either be immediate or may even take some time. Immediate risk for infection involves the risk for infection during and immediately post-piercing. It is mostly due to nonsterile equipments. Risk of hepatitis and bacterial infections are also present. On the other end of the spectrum, since healing of ear cartilage piercing takes a long time, many external factors are often present to further prolong complete healing. These factors increasing one’s risk for infection after piercing include clothing, physical trauma, and harsh chemicals (eg. soaps and lotions). 
An image of a subject with ear cartilage infection due to piercing.
Treatment of Pierced Ear Cartilage Infections
Below is a list of things to do once swelling, redness, pain, or discharge is noted on the area of the piercing. The said signs and symptoms are manifestations of a concurrent piercing infection. 
- Apply saline solution with a ratio of 8:1 to the affected area for five minutes four times daily.
- Mobilize the ear accessory at least once daily. Do this with clean hands.
- Rubbing of ice on the affected area may diminish pain and inflammation.
- Avoid using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, for these agents can dry the skin and prevent further healing.
- When allergic reactions are noted, the ear accessories should then be removed.
- If still with signs/symptoms of infection despite doing of the previous statements, consultation with a physician for prescribed antibiotics is a must.
Do’s and Don’ts of After Piercing
The following must be remembered once the piercings are done to prevent infection and promote faster healing among piercings. 
- Avoid irritants like hairspray, dyes, perfumes, lotions, and other chemicals
- Avoid touching the just pierced area
- Maintain clean hands
- Change pillow cases
- Avoid swimming or using bath tubs within 2 weeks
- Clean the piercing twice daily
- May soak the pierced area with saline solution once daily
- Manca, D, et al. Case Report: Infected Ear Cartilage Piercing. Canadian Family Physician. 2006 August.; 52 (8): 974-75.