How Bad Does a Cartilage Piercing Hurt?

Reviewed on 3/26/2021
Ear lobes are the safest part for ear piercings.
Ear lobes are the safest part for ear piercings.

Ear lobes are the safest part for ear piercings. However, cartilage piercings (or ear cartilage piercings) seem to be the latest trend. Cartilage piercings are more painful than ear lobe piercings but less painful than other kinds of body piercings. This is because cartilage tissue is thick and hard. So, you are bound to experience some pain and discomfort.

To get an idea about how much it will hurt you, try pinching the ear cartilage area. Eventually, it depends on your ability to bear the pain. The pain thresholds vary amongst individuals. What is more painful to you may be less painful to others. If you do not want to take the risk and wish to reduce the possibility of extreme pain, you can try using a numbing cream that contains the medication, lidocaine. Ask your doctor about the concentration of lidocaine as well as the brand that you can use.

How is a cartilage piercing done?

Cartilage piercing may be done by any of the two methods:

  • Needle piercing
  • Dermal punching

Both types of piercing will be followed by cleaning the cartilage area with cotton dipped in a disinfectant, such as betadine or iodine. This will be followed by inserting a new, fresh, sterile needle into the cartilage.

If you want a bigger hole for a bigger earring, dermal punching is the popular method. The method involves the use of a small dermal punching machine tool. The tool will create a hole in your cartilage like a regular hole puncher or paper puncher. This method is usually adopted for conch piercings.

Since the piercing is through the cartilage, a part of the cartilage is removed during the method of dermal punching. The opening is permanent; it does not close as the one created in the ear lobe.

It is recommended to go for a needle piercing than for dermal punching. Dermal punching is a relatively riskier procedure and needs to be done only under the guidance of a medical professional.

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How to take care of the pierced ear cartilage

Ear piercing is a relatively risk-free procedure if performed at the ear lobe and along the helix region. The risk of complications of piercing through the cartilage is greater because healing takes a longer time as compared to the ear lobe. Hence, it requires extra care than other areas. Here are a few steps that you should follow to take care of your pierced cartilage:

  • Clean the pierced area twice a day either with soap and warm water, rubbing alcohol, or with any cleanser recommended by your piercer. This should be done at least for 3 months.
  • Give a saline bath to your ear once a day. Pour a bottle of store-bought saline water into a bowl. Dip the pierced area in it for 2-5 minutes a day.
  • Avoid touching your ear piercing. The germs in your hand can get transferred and cause infection.
  • Wash your hands every time before you touch or clean the area.
  • Avoid indulging yourself in swimming pools or water parks.
  • Do not remove the jewelry at night. Keep it in place. Avoid removing your jewelry until your piercer gives a nod.

It is normal for the skin around the piercing to swell, turn red, and be painful to touch for a few days. You may also notice a little bleeding. If the swelling, redness, and bleeding last longer than 2-3 days, contact your doctor.

You should keep inspecting the pierced area for at least 3 months. See your doctor if you think that it is infected. The signs of infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swelling and tenderness around the pierced site
  • Red streaks over the pierced site
  • Pain that worsens over time

Is cartilage piercing safe?

Doctors do not think well about the practice of cartilage piercing due to the associated health risks. If you want to anyways go for it, they recommend visiting a surgical center instead of a local studio or mall. This is because, without proper sterile precautions and other safety measures, cartilage piercings carry a high risk of infections at the pierced area, which can delay the healing. Certain infections, such as infections caused by Pseudomonas, which may happen weeks or months after the cartilage piercing, can destroy the cartilage if left untreated and cause scarring. The only treatment that remains is the removal of the dead cartilage. And without the cartilage, the shape of your ear gets altered. Above all, the reconstruction surgeries of the deformed ears are difficult to perform.

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References
Sosin M, Weissler JM, Pulcrano M, Rodriguez ED. Transcartilaginous Ear Piercing and Infectious Complications: A Systematic Review and Critical Analysis of Outcomes. Laryngoscope. 2015;125(8):1827-1834. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25825232/

Kirchheimer S. Cartilage Piercing Riskier Than Earlobes. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20040224/cartilage-piercing-riskier-than-earlobes#:~:text=Feb.,may%20be%20a%20reason%20why

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