Conch Piercing Pain Levels, Precautions, and Piercing Aftercare

Conch piercings are typically more painful than traditional earlobe piercings because they are done through cartilage, tougher tissue that takes longer to heal. There's what you need to know.

The conch, which gets its name from the ear's resemblance to a conch shell, is the inner cup part of your ear. When it comes to piercing, you can pierce your inner or outer conch, or both.

The inner conch is higher up, parallel to the daith (the fold of cartilage above your ear canal). The outer conch is lower and closer to your antihelix, which is the first of the two ridges making up the outer contours of your ear.

When you get your conch pierced, the needle has to move through a hard plate of cartilage. Feel your ear and move it around. You can tell that the cartilage in the conch is thicker and harder than most other parts of your ear. This means the piercing is going to be more painful than most other areas.

Before you head over to the piercing parlor to tough it out, there are a few more things you should know about conch piercings.

Is conch piercing painful?

Pain is subjective so it's difficult to say how painful your conch piercing will be. It will hurt — but it will hurt some people more than others.

If this isn't your first rodeo, you'll have a basic idea of how cartilage piercings are more painful more than earlobe piercings. If your ears are naked except for the lobes, the conch might not be your best foray into the more advanced piercing world.

During the procedure, you can expect to feel sharp pain and pressure. In the hours and days that follow you can expect a hot, throbbing pain.

Your pain may get worse when you clean your piercing and when you sleep. In the beginning, the pain will probably wake you up when you roll over onto the affected side.

The duration of the pain depends on a number of factors, like the piercing method you choose and your tolerance level, but you can expect tenderness for at least a few weeks.

A needle-pierced conch can take anywhere from three to nine months to heal completely. During that time, you'll be at risk of infection, which can yank your pain level right back up.

If your conch is pierced with a small-gauge dermal punch, you can expect considerably more pain. The dermal punch is basically a hole punch for your ear. It actually removes a small circle of cartilage.

After a dermal punch, you may have trouble sleeping for months and pain or tenderness that lingers for a year or more.

Regardless of which method you choose, in the weeks and months after your piercing, your pain level will gradually decrease.

Conch piercing procedure

There are two different methods for piercing your conch, regardless of whether you choose to do your outer or inner conch.

The most common procedure involves a regular piercing needle. Your piercer will clean the area, mark a point on both sides, then insert the needle and jewelry. The whole process takes only a few minutes.

The other option is to use a dermal punch. Your piercer will only use a dermal punch if you request one. The reason for doing so is the ability to wear larger jewelry.

Unlike the earlobes, you can't stretch cartilage. So, if you want bigger jewelry, your piercer will need to make a bigger hole. This hole doesn't close up like other piercings, and should be considered permanent.

Conch piercing for chronic pain

You may have heard that some ear piercings can help reduce pain. The daith piercing, for example, seems to relieve migraines in some people. Conch piercing has been associated with easing both chronic and acute pain.

This practice is based on scientific evidence showing that specific acupuncture points in the ear can reduce pain. For example, a small 2017 study showed an association between ear acupuncture and neuropathic pain relief in people with spinal injuries.

Researchers have explored 'battlefield acupuncture' as a way of quickly relieving soldiers' pain — whether they're in combat or after returning home from deployment.

However, battlefield acupuncture typically follows a pain relief protocol targeting five different acupuncture points in both ears. Most of these points are nowhere near the conch; only one comes close.

Conch piercing healing time and aftercare

Cartilage is thick avascular tissue that doesn't take kindly to puncture wounds. Because the cartilage does not have a good blood supply, it can take longer to heal. Aftercare is essential to prevent infection during the long healing time.

You should always follow the aftercare directions given by your piercer. You will likely be told to:

  • Clean your piercing at least twice per day for at least three months.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before touching or washing your piercing.
  • Find a store-bought saline solution or dissolve 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of non-ionized sea salt into one cup of distilled or bottled water.
  • Gently wipe the area around the area with clean gauze or paper towels saturated with saline.
  • You do not have to rotate your piercing during cleaning or at any other time.
  • Give your piercing a sea salt bath once per day by putting warm saline in a mug or shallow bowl and tilting your head to dip your ear in the solution for three to five minutes.
  • Do not remove your jewelry until your piercer says it's OK.
Possible side effects and precautions

Whenever your body is injured, you run the risk of complications.

Infected conch piercing

Cartilage piercings are associated with infections. In one small, dated study of more than 500 women with ear piercings, 32 percent of those with cartilage piercings got infections. An infected ear can be extremely painful and may require antibiotics.

If you suspect an infection, do not remove your jewelry unless a doctor tells you to. Removing your jewelry could cause an infected abscess to grow.

Signs of an infection include:

  • red and swollen skin around the piercing
  • pain or tenderness
  • yellow or green discharge coming from the piercing
  • fever, chills, or nausea
  • red streaks
  • symptoms that are getting worse or that last longer than one week

Swelling

Swelling, or inflammation, is the body's natural response to trauma. Your ear may look puffy and red. Swelling should go down within a few days.

Piercing bumps

Different bumps that may affect the conch include:

  • keloid scars, which is a painless buildup of collagen that looks like scar tissue
  • an abscess, which may be full of pus
  • a piercing pimple, which is a small pustule next to the hole
  • contact dermatitis caused by a metal allergy to your jewelry
When to see a doctor

See your healthcare provider if you have any signs of infection. Warning signs of a serious infection include:

  • fever
  • sweating
  • chills
  • nausea or vomiting
  • streaks of red coming out of the piercing
  • pain that gets progressively worse over time
Takeaway

A conch piercing may hurt a bit more than other piercings, but with proper aftercare you should heal without problems.

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