What is Perichondritis?

Woman with ear pain.
perichondritis. IAN HOOTON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Perichondritis is an infection of the tissue that surrounds and nourishes the cartilage which makes up the outer ear. It is also sometimes called auricular perichondiritis. Common causes usually involve trauma to the tissue and include:

  • ear piercing (especially high up on the cartilage portion of the ear)
  • surgical trauma
  • injury from sports etc.
  • burns
  • cuts or lacerations of any kind on the ear
  • poorly treated otitis externa (swimmer's ear)

    There is also a condition called relapsing perichondritis, (also called relapsing polychondritis), which is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system goes haywire and attacks the tissues of the ear. Other cartilage in the body may also be affected. Many individuals with relapsing perichondritis also suffer from other autoimmune disorders.

    Symptoms Related to Perichondritis

    Since piercing the cartilage of the outer ear is a common trend, it seems to be the most common cause of perichondritis at this time. Perichondritis is usually caused by the pseudomonas aeruginosis bacteria,but is also caused by other bacteria including streptococcus aureus and streptococcus pyogenes. Perichondritis may manifested be by the following symptoms:

    • redness
    • swelling
    • pain
    • pus or other fluid discharge (in severe cases)
    • fever (in severe cases)
    • deformation of the ear structure (in severe cases)

    Relapsing perichondritis may be accompanied by other symptoms as well such as: weight loss, skin rashes, floppy ear, sudden hearing loss, vertigo, muscle pain, respiratory symptoms, difficulty swallowing and more.

    The diagnosis of perichondritis is uncomplicated and based on the history of trauma to the ear and the appearance of the area infected. In its beginning stages, perichondritis looks similar to cellulitis.

    Treating Perichondritis

    Treatment of perichondritis involves antibiotic therapy. Depending on the severity of the infection, antibiotics are prescribed to be taken orally or given intravenously.

    In severe cases where there is trapped pus and fluid in the wound, surgery may be necessary. The surgeon will make a small incision and then remove pus and other debris from the wound. Antibiotics will still be required after the procedure. If the infection is serious enough that the ear has become misshapen, parts of the ear may need to be removed. In this instance, plastic surgery may eventually be needed to reconstruct the ear and return it to a normal appearance.

    Autoimmune perichondirits is treated using steroid medication such as prednisone to repress the immune response and stop it from attacking the cartilage of the ear (and other parts of the body). As with other types of perichondritis cosmetic surgery may be necessary to correct deformation of the ear.

    Preventing Perichondritis

    Sometimes perichondritis cannot be prevented, such as in the case of accidental injury. However, piercing the cartilage in your ear puts you at a greater risk of developing this infection. It should be noted that multiple piercings and the exact area of the piercing can increase the risk.

    Prognosis of perichondritis is good. As long as the infection is discovered and treated properly early, full recovery is expected.

    Sources:

    Family Practice Notebook. Auricular Perichondirits. Accessed: May 14, 2016 from http://www.fpnotebook.com/ent/ear/ArclrPrchndrts.htm

    Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Perichondritis. Accessed: February 24, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001253.htm

    Medscape. Polychondritis. Accessed: May 14, 2016 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/331475-overview

    The New York Times Health Guide. Perichondritis. Accessed: February 24, 2009 from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/perichondritis/overview.html

    The University of Arizona Department of Surgery. Auricular (Outer Ear) Perichondirits. Accessed: May 14, 2016 from http://surgery.arizona.edu/conditions/auricular-outer-ear-perichondritis

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