Cartilage piercings heal more slowly than earlobe piercings and are prone to irritation. In the first few days after getting your piercing, you may notice a bump or general swelling around the jewelry.

You may also experience:

  • redness
  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • mild pain

As your cartilage piercing begins to heal, it’s normal to experience:

  • some discoloration
  • itching
  • oozing of a whitish-yellow fluid
  • crust on and around your jewelry

Cartilage piercings typically take anywhere from 4 to 12 months to heal completely. They heal from the outside in, which means that it may look healed on the outside long before the healing process is actually complete.

Unfortunately, bumps are relatively common with cartilage piercings. They can form soon after your initial piercing or long after it’s truly healed.

If you still have a bump after the initial swelling subsides, it may be:

  • a pustule, which is a blister or pimple that contains pus
  • a granuloma, which is a lesion that occurs about six weeks after a piercing
  • a keloid, which is a type of thick scar that can develop at the piercing site

Piercing bumps can be caused by allergies, genetics, poor aftercare, or just bad luck. With treatment, they may disappear completely.

Although minor swelling and redness are typical, more severe symptoms could be a sign of infection.

See your piercer or doctor right away if you’re experiencing:

  • uncomfortable pain or swelling
  • unusually thick or smelly discharge
  • yellow, green, or gray discharge
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness

Although you may want to, you shouldn’t remove your jewelry until your symptoms subside. If you take your jewelry out while symptoms are present, it may result in a painful abscess.

If you aren’t experiencing severe symptoms, you may be able to use the following methods to treat your cartilage bump at home.

Contact dermatitis, an allergic skin reaction, can cause piercing bumps. Many people are allergic to certain metals. Nickel allergies are particularly common. Many cheaper metals contain nickel alloys.

If you have a metal allergy, you may experience:

  • intense itchiness
  • skin that’s tender to the touch
  • redness or rash around the piercing
  • a hole that appears larger than the jewelry

The only way to correct this is to swap out your jewelry for something hypoallergenic.

If your piercing is less than a year old — or if you aren’t sure whether it’s completely healed — see your piercer. They can verify an allergy and safely insert a new piece of jewelry.

If you’ve had your piercing for a year or more, it should be safe to change the jewelry at home.

You should switch to something made with:

  • 18- or 24-karat gold
  • stainless steel
  • titanium
  • niobium

It’s extremely important to clean your piercing two to three times daily during the entire healing process. Even if your piercing appears healed, you should still clean it every day for at least three to six months.

Before touching your piercing for any reason, including cleaning, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Dry your hands with a paper towel, then clean your piercing.

You should use a fragrance-free antimicrobial soap — or your piercer’s recommended cleanser — to clean your piercing and the surrounding area.

Avoid using:

  • benzalkonium chloride (BZK)
  • iodopovidone (Betadine)
  • chlorhexidine (Hibiclens)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • hydrogen peroxide

After you cleanse, thoroughly rinse the area. Any remaining soap can cause irritation.

Dry your ear by gently patting it with a paper towel. Cloth towels can be contaminated with bacteria and are more likely to snag your earring.

Saline and sea salt soaks work by washing away harmful bacteria that can lead to infection. They also wash away dead cells and other debris that build up around the piercing and form keloids.

If you don’t want to buy saline, you can make your own using sea salt. Saline is just salt and water in specific proportions.

You can make your solution by adding ¼ teaspoon of fine sea salt to 8 ounces of warm water. Avoid using larger crystals as they don’t dissolve well in water and can be abrasive on your skin.

To soak your ear:

  1. Fill a mug to the brim with saline or sea salt solution.
  2. Tilt your head downward and hold your ear underwater. You can also dip a paper towel in the saline and apply it to your ear.
  3. Soak for 5 minutes.
  4. Use a clean piece of paper to gently pat the area dry.

Chamomile is known for its powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. A warm chamomile compress can help transfer these healing properties while increasing blood flow to the cartilage.

To make a warm chamomile compress:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Place a bag of chamomile tea in warm water and allow it to steep for four to six minutes.
  3. Apply the tea bag to the piercing for 5 to 10 minutes. You may need to refresh the tea bag with warm water every couple of minutes.
  4. After you’re done, rinse your piercing and pat it dry with a paper towel.

You can alternate between a sea salt or saline soak and applying a chamomile compress. Just be aware: You shouldn’t use chamomile if you have a ragweed allergy.

Tea tree oil is a natural antifungal, antiseptic, and antimicrobial agent. Because of this, many people swear by its ability to treat piercing bumps.

If you want to use tea tree oil on your bump, you’ll need to dilute it with water or saline. You should also do a patch test before use.

To do this:

  1. Apply a small amount of diluted tea tree oil to your forearm.
  2. Wait at least 24 hours.
  3. If you don’t experience any irritation or inflammation, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.

Once you’ve done a successful patch test, you have options for how to add tea tree oil to your cleansing routine. You can:

  • Use a cotton swab to apply the diluted oil directly to your piercing one or two times per day.
  • Add three to four drops of tea tree oil to your saline or sea salt soak.

Some piercing bumps clear up within a few days of improving your cleaning regime, but others can take much longer. Keloids can take weeks or months to fully disappear

If you aren’t seeing improvement, talk with your piercer. They are the best person to assess your symptoms and advise you on any next steps. They may want to change your jewelry or add a no-pull piercing disk.