(Originally published 12/18/2000)
When 13-year-old Martha came in for her routine physical I could tell there was some controversial question waiting to be asked…and here it came! “How old do I have to be before I can get my ears pierced?”
Of course Mom sat there with a decided and expectant look upon her face. Obviously this subject had been battered around at home with no solution having been reached. She needed the “referee” to make the final decision.
To begin with there is no “right” answer to this question. Many factors have to be considered. These include culture, family customs, family ritual, and even peer pressure.
As a general rule I consider a young girl or boy can have their ears pierced with a single piercing at age 13 years. At this age they are usually able to care for the new earrings. They are old enough to consent to the procedure and to understand the potential complications that could follow. Many fellow physicians as well as myself hesitate to pierce the ears of infants and very young children. They have not given their consent to the procedure, and certainly do not have the capability to take proper care of the ears. It is disheartening to have to remove studs from infants ears that have become infected, due to improper care.
It is recommended that the physician do the procedure in his office. This environment is favorable due to the use of an aseptic method, with sterile equipment that assures no spread of infectious disease. The piercing is generally rapid and relatively painless.
The physician is then in a position to care for any complications, should they develop. Other businesses that do the piercing present questionable standards of hygiene. One can never be too sure, and it is not worth running a health risk.
Post-pierce care is generally done with alcohol wipes and twisting the stud with clean hands. This is done several times a day, for four-to-six weeks. This insures cleanliness to the newly placed stud as well as the developing track through the ear lobe. At the end of this break-in period more personalized earrings can be worn. But keep in mind, the less expensive metals, such as nickel, etc., are more commonly associated with allergic skin reactions. Do not take the risk. Save your money to invest in hypoallergenic earrings.
And so you can see, there is no “right” answer to this question. Martha must understand the commitment and the minimal risks. She must be prepared to use proper hygienic care for her ears during the breaking-in period. With some advanced planning she will be able to enjoy her pierced ears for years.