The risks of piercing baby's ears parents should know about
Always be aware of the risks of any medical procedure, especially if it involves a child.
In Asia, it’s very common – in fact, almost the norm – to pierce baby girls’ ears. Sometimes this is even done very soon after birth. But like everything that is accepted as the norm, it’s good to question both risks and benefits. Is it really okay to pierce a baby’s ears as a newborn? What about baby ear piercing infection? Is there a best time to pierce a child’s ear? These are some of the questions we’ll answer for you in this article.
When Is the Best Time for a Baby’s Ears to be Pierced?
The answer isn’t clear among paeditricians, either. However, here at theAsianparent, we think it’s best to wait until your child receives at least her six-month vaccinations. That way, you’re reducing the possibility of tetanus and other blood-borne infections.
“When can I have my child’s ears pierced? Are there any risks involved?” These are common queries that Suzanne Rossi, a paediatrician, receives about ear-piercing by new parents during newborn wellness checks.
Dr Rossi wanted to find out more so she dove into the scientific literature about ear-piercing. Shockingly, she discovered that there hasn’t been substantial research about ear-piercing of infants.
However, she does note one solid guideline by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The suggestion, which according to Rossi is “clearly the best way to reduce the risk of baby ear piercing infection” is to only pierce a child’s ears once they know how to look after the wound independently.
Baby Ear Piercing Infection and Other Risks: How Is Ear-Piercing Done?
With ear-piercing, a 12- to 18-gauge needle is pricked through the child’s earlobe. A piece of jewellery is then placed into the resulting hole.
As ear-piercing involves penetrating the skin, a wound is produced. In general, the torn skin on the ear may lead to:
- An allergic reaction as the needle touches the skin
- Disfiguring the ear, which happens frequently with ear piercings in higher parts of the ear
- The wound recovering, which causes the the earring or clip to become lodged into the ear
- Having an infection which releases pus; infections occur in roughly 24% of ear piercings
- Developing keloids*, a harmless skin condition where scarred tissue grows over a healing wound
According to Rossi, a study conducted in 2005 showed that most patients suffered from keloids when their ears were pierced while they were at least 11 years old.
The scientists in the 2005 study had one core piece of advice to people who are vulnerable to keloids (either from previous occurrences or by tracking the family tree).
People at risk of keloids should not have their ears pierced, or have their ears pierced when they’re younger than 11 years old.
What’s more, parents with children who have congenital heart disease (CHD) may have to think twice about getting an ear-piercing. This is because people with CHD who acquire infections can experience much more serious consequences.
This is a large enough concern that in another study, 53% of medical personnel who were looking after patients affected by CHD frowned upon ear-piercing. Many of these medical professionals would also have advised antibiotic shots after getting an ear-piercing.
Safety Tips to Keep in Mind
Knowing the risks with baby ear-piercing, you are now better informed to get it done safely, if this is something you choose to do. In Singapore, the risk of infection is very low, especially if a paediatrian does it for you. Still, it’s good to keep these safety tips in mind:
- Use gold earrings where possible. Jewellery made of gold can lessen the likelihood of triggering an allergic reaction and inflammation.
- If the paediatrician or clinic gives you an antibiotic cream, apply it religiously to the wound as per their instruction. This will lessen the likelihood of an infection.
- Help monitor that the earring doesn’t come off. The earring should stay on the ear for four to six weeks. Gently turn it every day.
- Always choose a reputable place to do your ear-piercing. Ensure that an experienced professional is piercing your child’s ear in the cleanest conditions possible.
Always remember to ask the paediatrician or clinic how to care for your baby’s piercing at home, including looking after a minor infection.
Signs of Baby Ear Piercing Infection
- yellow, pus-like discharge
- ongoing pain or tenderness
- itching and burning
When to See a Doctor
Please show your baby to a paediatrician immediately if:
- The earring doesn’t move.
- The earring clasp is embedded in the skin.
- The infection doesn’t improve with home treatment within two days.
- Your baby gets a fever.
- The infection spreads beyond the piercing site (indicated by redness).