Chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis

Written by Dr Jill Tomlinson on .

"Chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis" is a long phrase used to describe a surprisingly common and painful condition that affects the ear. Individuals who have chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis develop a painful ulcer or area of irritated skin on their ear, usually on a part of the ear where the cartilage is prominent. It keeps people awake at night and can be a real problem!

What causes chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis?

It is thought to be caused by pressure, usually pressure between your ear and your pillow at night. Many patients report that it affects the ear that they usually sleep on.

Non surgical treatment

A variety of treatments can be tried to fix chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis without surgery. First of all, try to keep pressure off the affected ear. Use a soft pillow and consider padding your ear so there is no pressure on the painful spot. Try to sleep on the unaffected ear. Use foam rubber or sponge to make a ear protector and hold it in place with a headband. Get a custom-made silicone device to protect your ear from pressure. Purchase a donut pillow to sleep on. 

If your problem is worse during winter you may find keeping your ears warm by wearing a beanie or hat is useful. Warmth helps to encourage blood flow to the area, which helps with healing. 

Surgical Treatment

The first thing I do in treating this condition is to exclude skin cancer as a possible diagnosis. It's not possible to tell from looking at your ear if you have skin cancer or chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis, so I send a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) to a pathologist to confirm your diagnosis. 

If there is no sign of skin cancer in the biopsy then we can go ahead and treat your chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis. This treatment involves removing the ulcer and sometimes the prominent bit of cartilage underneath it. The procedure can be performed under local anaesthetic, with or without sedation. Dissolving stitches are used so you don't need to have any stitches removed. Occasionally a skin graft is recommended, but this is not common.

What are the possible complications?

The most common complications of surgery include infection, bleeding and recurrence of the condition. The recurrence rate is 5-30%. The condition is less likely to recur if it is treated aggressively and if you can minimise pressure on the area in the weeks after the procedure while your skin is healing.

How do I make an appointment?

You can contact Dr Jill Tomlinson's rooms on 9427-9596. Click here for our full contact details including consultation locations.

 For more information you may wish to read this patient information brochure on chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis from the British Association of Dermatologists.

Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.
Before proceeding you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

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This website is authored by Dr Jillian Tomlinson, a fully qualified plastic, reconstructive and hand surgeon who practices in Melbourne, Australia. This website aims to inform patients and health professionals about hand surgery, illness prevention and the practice philosophy of Dr Jill Tomlinson. This website's content is designed to complement, not replace, the relationship between a patient and his/her own doctor. The information is not intended to replace the advice of a health professional. This website does not host or receive funding from advertising or from the display of commercial content.