Perichondritis is infection of the tissue covering the cartilage of the auricle (pinna).
Injuries, burns, insect bites, ear piercings through the cartilage, or a boil on the ear may cause perichondritis. The infection also tends to occur in people whose immune system is weakened and in people who have diabetes. The first symptoms are redness, pain, and swelling of the auricle. The person may have a fever. Pus accumulates between the cartilage and the layer of connective tissue around it (perichondrium). Sometimes the pus cuts off the blood supply to the cartilage, destroying it and leading eventually to a deformed ear (called cauliflower ear).
Doctors give antibiotics (such as a fluoroquinolone) and often a corticosteroid by mouth. The choice of antibiotic depends on how severe the infection is and which bacteria are causing it. Doctors remove any foreign objects, such as an earring or a splinter. If people have an abscess (collection of pus), doctors make an incision to drain the pus, allowing blood to reach the cartilage again, and leave a drain in place for 24 to 72 hours. Warm compresses may also help. Doctors stitch (suture) the perichondrium to the cartilage to ensure that it heals correctly to avoid a deformity of the auricle.
Last full review/revision February 2013 by Bradley W. Kesser, MD