It’s a common practice the world over to have your ears pierced. Ear piercings have evolved over the years to different parts of the ears being pierced. From cultural to fashionable reasons, this trend has been accepted globally. Ear piercing might be aesthetically appealing, but are they safe?
The outer ear is made up of the auricle (pinna) and the external auditory meatus (ear canal). The pinna captures and directs sound to the ear canal, and it helps to make sounds louder. The pinna is made up of cartilage, and certain parts are cartilage-free. Most people pierce and adorn the cartilage-free part with jewelry while other people pierce the cartilage. There are risks involved with piercing the cartilage and people may experience the following symptoms:
- Piercing the cartilage of the ear can result in poor healing of the ear. Individuals susceptible to keloid scars can experience this after ear piercing,
- Abscess formation, and/or
- Dark/pink mass at the piercing site.
- Auricular perichondritis is an infection of the cartilage and tissue.
- Blood diseases – an infection of hepatitis B and/or C, tetanus from contaminated equipment used can occur.
Different types of ear piercings
- Helix and concha piercing is piercing the helix of the ear. The top cartilage of the ear is pierced. This is along the edge of the ear.
- Forward helix: The position of this piercing is the front forward part of the helix. It is closer to the face.
- Ear lobe piercing: Involves piercing the ear lobe, a common place to pierce.
- Tragus: The tragus is an area close to the face and situated at the entrance of the ear canal. The tragus contains cartilage.
- Daith: This type of piercings passes through the inner cartilage fold.
- Industrial: Industrial piercing is two piercing made to the ear and is connected with jewelry.
- Rook: Rook piercing is the piercing of the inner flap cartilage below the helix.
Ear lobe piercing has a low risk of infections compared to other piercing sites on the ear; this is mainly due to less blood supply to other areas of the pinna. Ear piercing does not directly cause hearing loss but fluid from an infected site on the pinna, such as the concha or tragus, could get into the ear canal. This could cause infection to spread, or the fluid may block the ear canal, which can affect the transmission of sound.
How do piercings affect getting help with hearing later in life?
Should you have multiple piercings places on the pinna, or have ear modifications such as concha bowl removal, it can affect getting help with your hearing. Should you be diagnosed with hearing loss, hearing devices are usually recommended. Hearing devices such as hearing aids require an ear without any structural problems to be fitted well. Earrings and other ear jewelry can affect the placement and fit of the hearing aid. An improperly fitted hearing aid can cause feedback (whistling sound), reduce the loudness of sound, and increase the risk of hearing aids falling off.
In cases of ear modifications such as concha bowl removal, concha is required for ear molds, and certain types of hearing aids such as in-the-ear hearing aids, behind-the-ear hearing aids, and in-the-ear. Behind-the-ear hearing aids sit behind the ear between the back part of the concha and mastoid area. Without a concha bowl, the hearing aid won’t sit properly. In-the-ear hearing aids sit in the concha and ear canal. Without a concha, this type of hearing aid cannot be used.
Precautions to take with ear piercing
Newly pierced ears are susceptible to pinna infections (auricular perichondritis). The following can help reduce the risk of infection:
- Use an antibacterial soap to clean the outer ear (do not let soap and water get into your ears),
- Wash your hands before touching the pierced site,
- Use an antiseptic solution,
- Keep chemicals away from the pierced site: perfumes, hair sprays, shampoos, hair conditioners, hair oils, etc.,
- Should the piercing site not heal within a reasonable time or you see signs of infection, seek medical treatment promptly. Do not delay seeking medical treatment as this can cause the infection to worsen and result in further damage.
Should you be interested in ear modifications and ear piercing, it is very important to consult with all relevant healthcare providers such as hearing healthcare professionals, certified plastic surgeons, and/ ear, nose, and throat doctors on the risks and long-term effects of ear modifications and ear piercings.