Definition

What is cauliflower ear?

Cauliflower ear, also known as perichondrial hematoma or wrestler’s ear, is a deformity of the ear caused by trauma.

Cauliflower ear occurs when blood pools in your pinna after it’s been hit or struck. The pinna is your outer ear. This pooling of blood, known as a hematoma, needs to be treated right away.

While there’s no treatment for cauliflower ear, it can be prevented even after the trauma has occurred. So it’s crucial to know the warning signs and take action right away.

How common is cauliflower ear?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of cauliflower ear?

If you’ve experienced an ear injury or hit to the side of your head, check your outer ear in a mirror for swelling or bruising. You may also notice a change to the shape of your ear. As blood begins to pool around the injured area, fresh blood supply to your ear cartilage is cut off.

Left untreated, cauliflower ear can lead to:

  • Ringing in your ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision

A study in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine found that wrestlers with cauliflower ear were significantly more likely to experience hearing loss than wrestlers without the condition. Cauliflower ear may also be associated with increased risk for ear infections. Catching the beginning signs of cauliflower ear will protect you from other complications down the road, as well as help prevent deformity of your ear.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes cauliflower ear?

The most common cause of cauliflower ear is a hit to the ear — or repeated hits to the ear — that leads to hematomas, or small collections of blood that clot and block the flow of blood and nutrients. These can also occur when skin is pulled away from cartilage, the semi-rigid tissue that gives the ear its shape.

Usually, cauliflower ear is related to sports injuries, but not always. Any trauma to the ear can cause it. Cauliflower ear can even be the result of an infection in the ear lobe.

When blood flow is blocked, the affected cartilage may die and, without the supportive tissue, fold in on itself. Scar tissue may form, contributing to a swollen and deformed look. Over time, the effects may become more prominent, and they may be permanent. The good news is that cauliflower ear can usually be prevented, even after such an injury occurs.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cauliflower ear?

Cauliflower ear occurs most frequently in people who participate in close-contact sports, such as wrestling or boxing. In wrestling, for instance, trauma can result from opponents’ heads rubbing or hitting one another during matches or from contact with the wrestling mat.

Cauliflower ear is also common among rugby players and people who practice martial arts. People who participate in these activities are at higher risk than others. Protective head gear has long been commonplace in these sports.

But these injuries can also occur in non-athletes. They may be the result of accidents or physical altercations. They also can be a complication of “high” piercings in the upper area of the ear, through the cartilage, if the piercing becomes infected.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cauliflower ear diagnosed?

Please consult your doctor for further information.

How is cauliflower ear treated?

Initial treatment

Ice the injury as quickly as possible. You can do this by applying ice for 15-minute intervals. That will help reduce the swelling and may prevent cauliflower ear. You should also seek medical treatment right away.

Drainage and compression

Your doctor may be able to treat the condition by draining the excess blood from your ear. They do this by making an incision at the site of the injury so that the blood can drain out of the injury.

After draining your ear, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help prevent infection. Your doctor will also place a compression dressing on your ear to ensure that it heals in the correct shape.

You’ll need to avoid activities that may cause additional trauma to your ear until your ear is completely healed. Ask your doctor when you can resume normal activities. It’s important to follow their advice to improve your outcome.

Cauliflower ear can reoccur, so it’s important to monitor your ear for swelling even after it’s been drained.

If the swelling isn’t treated quickly enough, or if initial treatment is unsuccessful, the cartilage will then become thickened and scarred and start to look like the cauliflower vegetable, hence the term cauliflower ear.

Surgery

Cauliflower ear is permanent, but in some cases, you may be able to reverse the appearance using corrective surgery, known as otoplasty.

During the surgery, your doctor makes a cut behind your ear to expose the cartilage. Your doctor then either removes some of the cartilage or uses stitches to reshape your ear. You may need general anesthetic for the surgery, but in some cases, a local anesthetic can be used.

You should be able to resume physical activities within six weeks, though your doctor may recommend waiting longer.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cauliflower ear?

The most important thing you can do to prevent cauliflower ear is to wear the appropriate head gear when engaging in activities that increase your risk for ear trauma, such as wrestling, boxing, rugby, and other close-contact sports. It’s crucial to get a proper fit for protective head gear. A helmet that’s too loose can slip out of place, leaving you vulnerable to injury. One that’s too tight may itself be damaging to the ears, especially as you repeatedly rub it against your ears putting it on and taking it off.

Athletes should remember to use protective gear during practices. And those thinking about high ear piercings may want to talk with their doctor first.

Another important step in the prevention of cauliflower ear is to be aware of the risks and to have a doctor evaluate any trauma to the ear, even if it seems superficial. Treatment can help prevent the unsightly, often permanent, cosmetic effects of cauliflower ear. But it has to be done very soon after the injury occurs to be effective.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 3, 2017 | Last Modified: November 3, 2017

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