Perichondritis consists of infection within the skin and deeper tissues around the cartilage of the outer ear. Cartilage is the flexible material that gives the outer ear and the nose it's recognisable shape. It has a thin layer or membrane around it called the perichondrium. This supplies oxygen and nutrition to the cartilage, keeping it healthy and helping it to grow. Sometimes the perichondrium is damaged. The underlying cartilage may become scarred. The scarred area can contract and the ear may become deformed.
Ear piercing is is one of the commonest causes of perichondritis. Other causes include surgery to the ear and contact sports. Antibiotics are used to treat the condition. These can be given either by mouth in the form of tablets or liquid or as a drip. If somebody is very unwell or unable to keep tablets down they are more likely to be given an injection. An intravenous cannula is inserted into the vein and the antibiotics are injected.
If an abscess has formed in the ear then this may need to be drained. An abscess is a collection of pus in a little sack. Drainage is likely to be required. Without this antibiotics are unlikely to work on their own.
If there is dead tissue such as skin or cartilage present this may need to be removed. This is a surgical process called debridement. Whether the person does well depends on how soon and how well the infection is treated. If treatment is late or the wrong antibiotics are used then the infection is likely to spread and more tissue damage occurs. If treatment is started early and the disease has not progressed too far then full recovery is expected. If the cartilage of the ear is affected by the infection then it is likely that more intensive treatment may be required.
One of the complications of the condition is that if the cartilage of the ear is affected then plastic surgery may be required. This may be the only way to restore the shape.
The condition can be prevented by avoiding piercing the cartilage of the ear. Instead it is safer to just pierce the ear lobe. Unfortunately cartilage piercing as become more popular. As a result the number of chondritis and perichondritis cases has gone up in recent years.