Is it really safe to pierce a baby's ears?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Some people find it tacky, others say it is cruel, while in some cultures, it is the norm. Whether you are for or against piercing a baby's ears, it is certainly a divisive issue.

So, when Khloe Kardashian revealed photos of her baby's pierced ears, it sparked debate about the practice.

Khloe first revealed her daughter's pierced ears in an Instagram video when her daughter True was just weeks old. While she deleted that video, Kardashian and her sister Kim have since shared photos of True, who was born on April 12, sporting what appear to be enormous diamond studs.

 

Mood PS why are rolls soooooo cute on babies?! 😩😍

A post shared by Khloé (@khloekardashian) on

Khloe posted a photo of True on Instagram on July 15, which showed her pierced ears, while aunty Kim Kardashian shared a photo on August 4 of her baby daughter Chicago alongside True, wearing the large studs.

 

Best friends for life!!!! 💕

A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

In some cultures, piercing a baby's ears, sometimes within days of birth, is common place. But there are safety and hygiene issues to consider, including the risk of infection, or choking on an earring if it comes loose.

A leading hospital in the US published a report about the risks of infant ear piercing in 2015.

John Hopkins Hospital paediatric resident Suzanne Rossi began researching the practice after being asked numerous times by parents of newborns when they could get their child's ears pierced.

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The report stated she believed the best advice was to follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Paediatrics, which states ear piercings should be postponed until a child is mature enough to take care of the pierced site themselves.

Dr Rossi noted a number of possible complications from ear piercing, including bleeding, inflammation, allergic reaction, post-traumatic tearing, deformation of the auricle, embedded earring backings and infection with discharge, the latter of which is thought to occur in 24 per cent of all ear piercings. She said another possible complication was the formation of keloids, or unsightly growths.

She also said children with congenital heart disease needed to take care with ear piercings, due to a higher risk of infection.

The report said Dr Rossi recommended parents wait until their baby is at least six months old to reduce the risk of tetanus and blood borne infections from ear piercing.

Then there is the added risk of choking. A Canadian study found choking on jewellery, including earrings, was the cause of a number of paediatric hospital emergency department visits.

The study found there were 380 cases of jewellery-related injury over a 10-year period, including swallowing injuries.

"Even if those injuries are relatively rare, they still result in visits to the emergency room because of foreign bodies in natural openings, skin trauma, choking and suffocation," the study found.

"As a primary prevention strategy, doctors and health professionals working with children should make parents and their caregivers aware of the possibility of trauma in children wearing or playing with jewellery."

The study also found "numerous risks are associated with piercings, such as bleeding, tissue trauma [and] secondary infections".

The most frequent cause of injury in the adolescent age group was an embedded earring, the study found.

"In the emergency room, the extraction of a piercing, if necessary, can be technically challenging," it said.

The American Academy of Paediatrics says there is little risk to a child, whatever the age, if ear piercing if performed carefully and cared for conscientiously, but states "as a general guideline, postpone the piercing until your child is mature enough to take care of the pierced site herself".

It recommends a doctor, nurse or experienced technician perform the piercing and that a "round, gold-post earring" should be used to "reduce the risk of an allergic reaction and inflammation in the area".

"After the piercing, apply rubbing alcohol or an antibiotic ointment to the area two times a day for a few days; these applications will cut down the chances of infection and hasten the healing process.

"The earring should not be removed for four to six weeks, but should be gently rotated each day.

"If the area of piercing becomes red or tender, an infection may be developing, and you should seek medical attention promptly."

A family GP who spoke to Essential Baby said piercing an ear effectively placed a foreign object inside the ear lobe.

He said he had removed numerous earring backs that had been encased in the ear lobe due to infection, swelling or irritation caused by the earring, and he had even seen entire earrings swallowed up by the ear lobe.

The resulting procedure to remove the offending backing or earring was painful and often left the patient with scarring and other problems, he said.