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Perichondritis is an infection of the skin and layer of tissue around the cartilage, most frequently of the external ear, following trauma or infection. When the infection involves the cartilage, the disease is called chondritis.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

The outer ear, the part that sticks out from the side of your head, is a structure made almost exclusively out of skin and cartilage, a stiff material that allows the ear to keep its shape. All cartilage has a thin layer of tissue around it, called perichondrium, which helps to provide nutrients to the cartilage. Infection of this thin tissue, termed perichondritis, is usually caused y trauma to the ear, either accidental or as a result of ear surgery, ear piercing !especially piercing of the cartilage", or contact sports. #ar piercing through the cartilage is pro a ly the most significant risk factor today. The most common acteria causing this infection are called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. While not a common infection, perichondritis can cause severe damage to the ear if it progresses to chondritis.

Symptoms & Signs

A painful, red ear is the most common symptom. At first the infection will look like cellulitis !a skin infection", ut it rapidly progresses to involve the perichondrium. The area of redness usually surrounds the area of trauma, which may e an a rasion or laceration. There can also e fever, and in more severe cases, fluid draining from the wound.

The est way to prevent this infection is to avoid ear piercing through the cartilage !not the ear lo e". $ince this practice has ecome more popular, there has een a significant increase in the num er of cases of perichondritis and chondritis.

Diagnosis & Tests

The diagnosis of perichondritis is usually made y history and physical exam. If there is a history of trauma to the ear and the ear is red and very tender, then the presumed diagnosis is perichondritis. There may e an a normal change in the shape of the ear.

Treatment consists of anti iotics, either y mouth or directly into the lood stream through an intra%venous line !I&". If there is a trapped collection of pus, then surgery may e necessary to drain this fluid and remove any dead skin and cartilage.

Prognosis (E pectations!
If the diagnosis is made rapidly and anti iotics are started, then 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 e surgically removed. This may result in the need for plastic surgery to restore the ear to its normal shape.

The main complication is extension of the infection into the cartilage of the ear, which would require removal of the damaged part and possi ly cosmetic surgery to restore it.

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