Perichondritis

Perichondritis is an infection of the skin and tissue surrounding the cartilage of the outer ear. Perichondritis is usually caused by injury to the ear as a result of:

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

What are the symptoms of perichondritis?

  • A painful, red ear is the most common symptom. At first the infection will look like a skin infection, but it will quickly worsen.
  • The redness usually surrounds a cut or scrape. Your child may also have a fever and fluid draining from the wound.

How is perichondritis diagnosed?

Your child's doctor will review his medical history and then examine the infected ear. If there is a history of trauma to the ear and the ear is red and very tender, then your child's doctor will probably diagnose it as perichondritis.

There may be a change in the normal shape of your child's ear as a result of the infection.

How is perichondritis treated?

Your child's doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics, either by mouth or through an IV. In the rare situation that there is a trapped collection of pus, surgery may be necessary to drain this fluid and remove any dead skin and cartilage.

In more advanced cases, when the infection spreads to the ear cartilage itself, 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.

If you suspect your child may have perichondritis, contact a doctor. The sooner this condition is treated, the less likely your child is to have any lasting effects as a result of it.

Cosmetic surgery

Repeated infections of perichondritis can lead to a condition informally called "cauliflower ear." If your child has this disfiguring problem, plastic surgeons at Boston Children's Hospital's Cosmetic Surgery Program can help.