Pain in the outer ear cartilage may be caused by several factors including ear piercings, cuts to the ear, trauma, complications from surgery and a rare condition called polychondritis, according to WebMD. Damaged cartilage takes longer to heal than other tissues because cartilage lacks its own blood supply.
A similar condition known as perichondritis affects the skin surrounding the cartilage of the ear. One of the most common infections of the ear's skin comes from the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Skin inflammation may also occur due to burns and acupuncture, notes MedlinePlus. Ear piercing is the one of the most common ear injuries that causes perichondritis. This condition can get worse if untreated, and a skin infection may cause chondritis if the infection spreads to the cartilage itself.
Ear piercings that go through the upper third of the ear are more prone to infections than piercings of the earlobe. Abscesses can form and worsen the infection, which may eventually lead to the cartilage falling off completely, according to WebMD. Complications from surgery may occur when part of the ear cartilage is reconstructed or when a lesion in the ear is removed and painful inflammation results. Relapsing polychondritis is a rare condition delineated by repeated inflammation within cartilage throughout the body, including the ears. The cause of polychondritis is unknown, but it most commonly affects patients in their 50s and 60s.