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The Informed Parent

The Infected Ear

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jul. 23, 2012

Some time ago I wrote an article about ear piercing ”She Wants Her Ears Pieced”. After careful consideration of various elements, the article concluded that a 13-year-old girl was probably mature enough to properly care for her ears following a piercing.

Low and behold, into the office comes another distraught parent. Her 13-year-old daughter had her ears pierced six month ago. Immediately the mom gave her 14 kt. gold earrings to wear during the healing period. The child was informed by the personal at the earring store that she should keep the earrings in for eight weeks.

Healing took place. Now the girl has purchased several age-appropriate earrings at the mall, designed for the young teenager. She has developed redness around the earring area, and the skin is itchy and scaly.

This description is typical of straightforward contact dermatitis to what is probably the nickel in her earrings. She is allergic to the nickel. Other areas that can appear infected are the neck and the wrist, or virtually any exposed part of the body.

Contact dermatitis can occur with many other types of allergens. These can include preservatives and fragrances found in detergents or deodorants. Allergy to thimerosal which is a common preservative especially found in saline solution, or rubber products which can be found in waistbands of clothing or the rubber products found in shoes are additional culprits.

For immediate treatment, topical steroid creams can often provide relief. Most importantly, the child needs to stay away from nickel-plated jewelry. Stick with the 14 kt. gold earrings.

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