The ears, they are a-piercin’

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

BB has mixed feelings about getting her daughter’s ears pierced: “What are your thoughts on the safety of piercing a baby or toddler’s ears? I’ve read mixed info about the ‘best’ age to pierce a young girl’s ears. I’d like to know what pediatricians typically recommend. I know this isn’t likely a pressing medical issue, but I want to make a safe, wise, informed choice for my daughter.”

Early or later piercing are both safe, so it’s mostly just a matter of family choice. Some families prefer to pierce early, before a baby could remember it; others want to let a child decide for herself when to do it. Some people like to pierce ears even in the newborn period, and I’ve never seen or heard of any sort of important complication from early piercing.

In fact, the few complications I have seen have been in teenagers rather than babies. Teens aren’t always as good about keeping new piercings clean (new piercings are far more likely to get infected than old, established holes.) I’ve seen a few teens (boys, naturally) ignore their posts completely, so skin grows over the front or the back. Also, teens are more likely than young children to develop keloid scars after piercing.

Whenever you do pierce, follow the instructions on keeping the area clean and using an antiseptic solution. It’s best to do the first pierce with good gold posts, and leave them in for a long while; don’t swap them over to little skinny loops until the hole is mature. The backing should never be tight against the back of the ear—leave a little wiggling for growth and to allow good air and blood circulation. Though the backing shouldn’t be tight against the ear, it does need to be tight on the post to keep the earring in the ear and out of a young child’s mouth. If there are signs of infection like increasing pain, warmth, redness, swelling, or drainage, go see your doctor.

Every once in a while, I get asked about doing ear piercing in my office. I’m not so sure that’s a great idea. Personally, for my own daughters, I’d rather have a piercer who does these all day, every day.

What about piercing other body parts? Holes through ear cartilage are somewhat more likely to get infected, and those infections can be more difficult to treat. Still, they’re usually fine. Lips and noses and eyebrows don’t seem to lead to many problems. However, tongue pierces can increase the risk of some very serious infections—like brain abscesses—and can cause speech problems and broken teeth. As for more exotic piercings south of the mouth—I don’t even want to know.

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2 Comments on “The ears, they are a-piercin’”

  1. BB Says:

    Thank you for the helpful feedback! As always, we appreciate your time and input!


  2. Shannon Says:

    My mother wouldn’t let us (2 daughters) get our ears pierced until we were 13. It was actually a really neat milestone activity. My mom and dad took us to the mall to a jewelry shop by surprise 6 weeks before our 13th birthdays so that on our birthday we could wear the new earrings we received as presents instead of having to wait six weeks later to wear them. My parents felt it was important for us to choose to have pierced ears and to know how to take care of our piercings ourselves and be able to keep up with earrings. Where I grew up, most girls did not get their ears pierced until at least age 10-13 and I even had some friends who opted not get them pierced until college. My husband and I are going to go the age 13 route with our little girl (or future girls). My sister and I really appreciated our parents thoughtfulness with their decision. Neither of us had infected ears from our piercings because we were old enough and responsible enough to care for them ourselves.


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