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What is Ear Collapse?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Ear collapse is a condition which can be caused by the infection of a cartilage piercing. Although this condition is unusual, especially when a piercing is properly cared for, it is extremely serious, and it requires prompt medical attention. To avoid this condition, people should care for cartilage piercings meticulously, and keep an eye on the condition of the ear. If an infection is suspected, it is a good idea to seek attention promptly.

This condition starts with an infection of the layers of cartilage associated with the piercing. Because the infection is actually inside the tissue of the ear, it can be hard to spot, until the infection starts to spread, literally eating through the layers of cartilage on the way. As the cartilage becomes compromised, that section of the ear collapses in on itself, because it lacks support.

Once it has happened, the collapse is irreversible, and the condition can cause significant deformities. In severe cases, people may opt for reconstructive surgery to rebuild the ear, especially if the infection was allowed to spread across a large area of the ear. This condition is treated with antibiotics which address the infection. Using antibiotics is crucial, because the infection must not be allowed to spread to the inner ear, which could cause loss of hearing.

The risk of ear collapse is present in the case of any cartilage piercing, along with an assortment of other medical risks, but it can be reduced by using the services of a professional piercer who has experience placing cartilage piercings. Aftercare instructions should also be closely followed, with piercees washing the site gently with warm water and antibacterial soap several times a day, using sea salt soaks to reduce the risk of infection, and avoiding unnecessary handling of the piercing until it heals.

Spotting the infection associated with this condition is tricky. As a general rule, if the area around the piercing feels extremely hot or soft, this is a sign of infection. The infection may also generate a discharge which is typically thick and smelly. If any of these symptoms manifest around a cartilage piercing, the piercer should be informed, and a doctor should be consulted. Be aware that taking the piercing out can make it harder to treat the ear collapse, by trapping the infection inside the ear.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon158671 — On Mar 08, 2011

Even with proper cleaning, a gun can deal an amount of shock to the ear. Pushing the stud through so quickly pushes the flesh and cartilage aside and allows more chance for it to collapse. A hollow needle is done more gently and carefully and does not force its way through in the same way a stud in a gun does. Guns can cause a lot of trauma to the piercing.

By anon119564 — On Oct 18, 2010

the piercing guns can be sterilized, and certain ones can even be autoclaved.

By anon106810 — On Aug 27, 2010

Those guns can be properly sanitized by soaking in alcohol for five secs. You just don't re-use them without soaking first. It's the same with needles. Clean or not, they have to be soaked first! 20 yrs exp.

By shade — On Dec 15, 2008

On top of proper care, this can be avoided by having your cartilage pierced at a piercing shop with a one time use piercing needle and NOT with a piercing gun. Those guns cannot be sterilized properly so every time one touches you, you are being contaminated with the bodily oils, sweat, and maybe blood of everyone else that gun has touched. And as we all know, other peoples' body fluids cause nasty infection.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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