June 28, 2023/Primary Care

How To Treat an Infected Nose Piercing

Soap, water and an antibiotic ointment are your best bet

person pressing on tender nostril

A nose piercing is a great way to express yourself, update your look or mark a milestone in your life. But all piercings come with the risk of infection, which isn’t cool if that piercing is in the middle of your face.

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Infected piercings are common. Nearly 1 in 4 people with body piercings (except in their earlobes) have had an infection or other medical issue.

“Fortunately, your nose has a rich supply of blood that helps it heal quickly,” says family medicine provider Daniel Krajcik, DO. “Most nose piercing infections are minor and easy to treat at home.”

Is my nose piercing infected or just healing?

After getting your nose pierced, you can expect some mild pain, redness and clear fluid that forms a crust. With proper care, those symptoms should get better in a few days.

The main signs of infection around any piercing site, including your ears, belly button or nose, include:

  • Pain.
  • Redness.
  • Swelling.
  • Thick yellow pus.
  • Warmth.

“You shouldn’t have a fever with a mild infection,” notes Dr. Krajcik. “We typically only see a fever with more severe infections. That would be a rare but serious situation and you should immediately seek medical attention.”

Is it a piercing infection or an allergy?

The redness and irritation around your nose piercing could be due to an allergy. In fact, allergic reactions to metal piercings are more common than infections, says Dr. Krajcik. An allergic reaction is usually itchy and rash-like, with small, raised, red dots around the area.

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Nickel, a metal often used in jewelry, frequently causes allergic reactions. Up to 20% of people may have a nickel allergy.

Nose piercing infection treatment

If you suspect an infection, Dr. Krajcik recommends that you:

  • Clean the piercing with soap and water at least two times per day and dry with a paper towel.
  • Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment or cream after you clean the area.
  • Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, to reduce pain and redness.
  • Use a cold compress to decrease inflammation.

Preventing a nose piercing infection

Preventing an infection starts with choosing the right place to get your piercing. And don’t try piercing yourself, Dr. Krajcik warns. “The person piercing your nose should wear gloves and use sterilized equipment,” he says. “I recommend walking away if the environment isn’t clean.”

After getting your nose pierced, the highest risk of infection is in the first week. Keeping the area clean during this time is critical:

  • Clean it: Clean the piercing with soap and water twice a day.
  • Dry it: Dry the area with a clean towel or paper towel.
  • Use antibacterial solution: If you received an antibacterial solution when you got your piercing, swab it around the area after you wash it.
  • Don’t touch: Keep your hands off the piercing as much as possible. If you do need to touch it, wash your hands first.
  • Turn it around: Turn the piercing after you wash it — not when it’s dry — to gently release it from the surrounding skin.
  • Don’t swim: Avoid swimming in pools for at least a week and avoid lake swimming until the piercing has fully healed.

Who’s at risk for nose piercing infections?

You may have a higher risk of infection after getting your nose pierced if you have certain health conditions, such as:

  • Diabetes: People with diabetes that isn’t well managed have higher levels of sugar in their blood. The extra sugar can fuel bacterial growth that causes an infection.
  • Weakened immune system: If you have a weakened immune system (immunocompromised) you can’t fight off infections well.

Take extra caution to keep the area around your nose piercing clean. Your healthcare provider may also recommend an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to prevent an infection.

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When to call a healthcare provider about an infected nose piercing

Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t get better with at-home treatment or they worsen. “Getting seen sooner is better since severe infections are harder to treat,” states Dr. Krajcik.

The possible complications of an infected nose piercing include:

  • Scarring around your nose piercing or an enlarged hole.
  • Spread of the infection to other areas of your face or your bloodstream, although such serious events are rare.

To clear up an infection, your provider may recommend a nonprescription antibiotic ointment or prescribe an oral antibiotic. Your provider can also figure out if your symptoms are due to an infection or an allergy. If you have an allergy, swapping the piercing for one made of a higher-quality metal should solve the problem.

The 1-2-3 on nose piercings:

  1. Keep it as clean as possible for the first week to prevent infection.
  2. If you notice increasing redness, soreness or pus, try an antibiotic ointment or cream.
  3. If that doesn’t help, let your provider know.

With good care, your piercing will heal quickly, and you’ll be rocking your new look.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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