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Is Your Piercing Infected, Irritated or Causing an Allergic Reaction?

The first question you’re likely to ask when a new piercing becomes unusually painful or swollen is “is my piercing infected?” But more often than not, any discomfort is down to irritation or an allergic reaction rather than an infection. And it’s important you know the difference so you can get the treatment you need. So, with that in mind, here’s how to identify what’s wrong with your piercing and how you treat each one.  


Infections are caused by bacteria and other contaminating substances getting into the wound. This can mostly be avoided by following basic hygiene rules and using a trusted piercer. The tissue surrounding an infected piercing will become swollen, red, painful and hot when you touch it. It’s likely it will also have a discharge that’s dark yellow or green in colour. It may also appear slightly bloody or smell unpleasant. In short, it will look pretty gross.  

If you experience any discharge that is light in colour without any of the pain, swelling or redness, don’t worry. This is just natural sebum which is normal and healthy.  

If you do think your piercing is infected, you should go and see a doctor as a precaution as they may wish to prescribe you antibiotics depending on how serious the infection is. They may also suggest that you bathe your ear in hot, salty water as it can soothe the pain and encourage it to heal faster. 


Just like infections, an irritated piercing can cause pain, swelling and redness. But it shouldn’t cause the horrible discharge that comes with an infection. Other symptoms of irritation include a solid (non-fluid filled) lump around the hole or some slight peeling. 

There are countless ways that a piercing can become irritated but they more or less have one thing in common: physical trauma. This could be anything from accidentally knocking it with your hairbrush, overcleaning it, playing with it, sleeping on it or anything else that would put pressure on your piercing.  

If you can find out what’s caused the irritation and stop doing it, chances are the symptoms will disappear on their own. Although again a warm salt water soak will help soothe the pain. Just don't over do it! 

Allergic Reactions 

Allergic reactions are caused when your body rejects something. In this case it could be the metal used in your piercing or something in the cleaning solution you’re using. You can identify an allergic reaction by a rash, itchiness and redness. And if it’s an allergic reaction to the metal, the skin might pull away from the jewellery. The symptoms will also appear very soon after being pierced rather than a few days later.  

You are more likely to experience an allergic reaction to metals like gold and silver than you are with hypoallergenic materials like surgical steel. Which is why we recommend always getting pierced with nickel-free jewellery like titanium or stainless-steel studs.   

If you are ever in doubt about what is causing your piercing to flare up, you should see a doctor for a full diagnosis.