On Ear and Body Piercing

March 22, 2021 | Medical Tips

A recent discussion amongst friends centred on the various body piercings that their university age children had undergone. It was an eye opener and made me think of the various problems I had encountered over the years with body piercings.

The most common piercings are those made into the earlobe. In your mind’s eye, picture a piercing made through the skin and fibrofatty tissue of the earlobe. The raw surface created by the piercing then grows skin from the adjacent skin of the earlobe. In a perfect result, this heals into a “tunnel” of skin in an uncomplicated way. A responsible ear piercer would clean the area and give some antibiotic ointment to facilitate this process.

It is now common to create multiple piercings in the ear. There is a major difference between piercing the earlobe- a fleshy structure and piercing the upper ear- a sandwich of two layers of skin with a complex cartilage in between. The ear cartilage is a thing of beauty with a lovely shape. The cartilage has no blood supply of its own and depends on the surrounding tissue for nourishment and for antibacterial properties. The “tunnel” referred to earlier now has to grow from the skin through the ear cartilage to the skin of the opposite side.

Poor healing in this part of the ear can cause infection and distortion of the cartilage. Also, when a wound in the ear takes a long time to heal there is chance of the formation of keloids. Smaller keloids respond well to injections of steroids. Larger keloids require removal. Due to the complex nature of the shape of the ear, plastic surgeons often have to use flaps from the skin behind the ear or elaborate flaps from the ear called Antia flaps.

I have been asked to reconstruct earlobes after a process called earlobe gauging where the lobe piercing is progressively enlarged to create a large hole in the earlobe. These reconstructions are done using the existing tissue rim and result, even in the most successful cases, in scars on the earlobe.

Ear Gauging or Stretching is hard to reverse

The effects of navel piercings are similar. In a well healed navel piercing, we may have to reposition scars used for laparoscopic and tummy tuck surgery to avoid these pre-existing scars. If the navel piercing doesn’t heal well, this can also result in keloids which can obstruct the navel making it hard to keep the area clean.

On a lighter note, I had an acquaintance when I was in Michigan who had a tongue piercing. We got along fine except that the clicking of his tongue stud against his teeth was a constant distraction when we conversed. Something to think about if you are considering this procedure.                                      

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About the Doctor
Dr Andrew Khoo
Plastic & Aesthetic Surgeon
FRCS (Edin), FRCS (Glasg),
M Med FAMS (Plastic Surgery)