Cauliflower ear is characterized by thickened, fibrotic scarring of the ear, giving it a cauliflower-esque appearance.
How do you get a cauliflower ear?
Cauliflower ear is an acquired deformity (meaning you weren’t born with it) of the outer ear that is usually caused by blunt trauma to the ear. The ear is not well protected against blunt trauma. When it is struck by a punch or kick, for instance, the blood supply to the skin and cartilage is disrupted, often forming a pocket of blood (a hematoma). If the blood is not evacuated in a timely fashion, a fibrous, solid material results, causing scarring and deformity of the ear known as cauliflower ear.
Although it rarely impairs hearing, the cosmetic deformity is quite difficult to repair if not addressed immediately after the injury occurs.
You can get cauliflower ear in other ways such as accidents, physical altercations, and even an infected ear lobe caused by piercing. This last example can lead to infection in the cartilage, which can result in cauliflower ear.
How do you prevent cauliflower ear?
Wrestlers, boxers, and martial artists are most susceptible to cauliflower ear. This is because of both the blunt trauma from strikes with fists or feet and from heads rubbing together or rubbing on the mat of the ring. Rugby players also are susceptible. Use of protective headwear in sports that place the ears at risk for trauma effectively prevents blunt injury and subsequent deformity.
Symptoms are generally related to the severity of the injury.
- Deformity of the ear curvature
- Loss of hearing
- Ringing in the ear
- Blurred vision
- Facial swelling
- Severe bleeding
These symptoms demand immediate medical attention to head off deformity.
Treatment for Cauliflower Ear
The simple goal of treatment is to prevent permanent damage to the cartilage. Our doctors at Coastal will drain blood from the hematoma and treat any infection. The goal is to re-establish the connection of the skin to the cartilage underneath it.
After draining the blood through an incision in the ear, the doctor will apply a compression bandage that sandwiches the two sides of the skin against the cartilage in the middle. This is called a pressure dressing. When treated early and aggressively, deformity is unlikely. However, if there is delay in seeing a doctor, there is a much greater chance that permanent injury will be sustained.
If you suffer blunt trauma to your ear in an accident, sport, or other condition, come see us at Coastal Ear, Nose and Throat. Long-term cosmetic deformity can be avoided if treatment is implemented in a timely fashion. Our board certified, fellowship trained physicians will provide you with the treatment that your ear needs.