Ear we go…the term cauliflower ear refers to a deformity of the ear caused by an injury that may occur during a boxing, wrestling or rugby match. Damage to the tissue may result in a bumpy or lumpy appearance on part of the ear which looks similar to cauliflower.
When cauliflower ear is left untreated, the injury leads to a blockage that prevents blood flow and damages the tissue. Early treatment may help prevent permanent deformity.
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.
Cauliflower ear occurs most frequently in people who participate in close-contact sports, such as wrestling, boxing or rugby matches. In wrestling, for instance, trauma can result from opponents’ heads rubbing or hitting one another during matches. 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 common 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.
You may have swelling, and the area may be red or bruised. So it’s important not to shrug off such symptoms if you have received a blow, or multiple blows, to the ear. Prompt treatment can prevent the development of cauliflower ear.
If you experience an injury that causes a blockage in the tissues of your ear, there’s still a chance you can avoid developing cauliflower ear. The goal of treatment is to ease the blockage so that blood can again flow to the affected tissues.
A doctor can accomplish this by making a small incision and draining accumulating blood or removing a clot and preventing further bleeding. The site will require monitoring for signs of infection or signs that additional treatment may be needed. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics.
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. It’s crucial to get a proper fit for protective head gear.
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 do any contact sport, remember to wear protective head gear.