Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Perichondritis

Perichondritis is an infection of the skin and tissue surrounding the cartilage of the outer ear.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Cartilage is the thick tissue that creates the shape of the nose and the outer ear. All cartilage has a thin layer of tissue around it called the perichondrium. This covering helps provide nutrients to the cartilage.

The most common bacteria that causes perichondritis infection is Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Perichondritis is usually caused by injury to the ear due to ear surgery, ear piercing (especially piercing of the cartilage), or contact sports. Ear piercing through the cartilage is probably the most significant risk factor today. Surgery, burns, and acupuncture also increase the risk of infection.

Perichondritis can cause severe damage to the ear structure if it becomes chondritis -- infection of the cartilage itself.

Symptoms

A painful, red ear is the most common symptom. At first the infection will look like a skin infection (cellulitis), but it quickly worsens and involves the perichondrium.

The redness usually surrounds an area of injury, such as a cut or scrape. There may also be fever, and -- in more severe cases -- fluid draining from the wound.

Signs and tests

Perichondritis is diagnosed based on the person's medical history and by looking at the ear. If there is a history of trauma to the ear and the ear is red and very tender, then perichondritis is diagnosed. There may be a change in the normal shape of the ear. The ear may look swollen.

Treatment

Treatment consists of antibiotics, either by mouth or directly into the bloodstream through an intravenous line (IV). If there is a trapped collection of pus, surgery may be necessary to drain this fluid and remove any dead skin and cartilage.

Expectations (prognosis)

What happens depends on how quickly the infection is diagnosed and treated. If antibiotics are taken early on, full recovery is expected. In more advanced cases, when the infection involves the ear cartilage (chondritis), part of the ear may die and need to be surgically removed. If so, plastic surgery may be needed to restore the ear to its normal shape.

Complications

If not treated early enough, the infection can spread to the ear cartilage. This would require removal of the damaged part and possibly surgery to restore it to a normal shape.

Calling your health care provider

If you suffer any trauma to your ear (a scratch, blow, or piercing) and then develop pain and redness over the stiff part of the outer ear, contact your health care provider. You may need to take antibiotics.

Prevention

The best way to prevent this infection is to avoid piercing your ear through the cartilage (as opposed to the ear lobe). The popularity of cartilage piercing has led to a significant increase in the number of perichondritis and chondritis cases.

References

Guss J, Ruckenstein MJ. Infections of the external ear. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 137.

Updated: 10/6/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com