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What is Cauliflower Ear Treatment?

Boxer without protective gear at risk of sustaining cauliflower ear injury

Cauliflower ear, also known as wrestler’s ear or perichondrial hematoma, is a type of ear deformity caused by blunt trauma. When the external portion of the ear is hit, it could develop a blood clot or other collection of fluids under the perichondrium. If left untreated, the resulting blood pooling (or hematoma) will result in tissue damage in the outer ear. This gives the ear a bumpy or lumpy appearance so that it physically resembles a cauliflower.

Cauliflower ear is frequently sustained by people who engage in contact sports, such as wrestling, martial arts, and boxing. Non-athletes who’ve sustained head and ear trauma are also at risk for developing the condition.

What are the Other Causes of Cauliflower Ear?

While cauliflower ear is typically associated with sports-related injuries and swollen ear cartilage, the following conditions could also lead to the development of this deformity:

  • Earlobe infections
  • Use of blood thinners
  • Inflamed cartilage due to relapsing polychondritis
  • Piercings in the upper area of the ear (though this can only cause cauliflower ear if the piercing gets infected)

What are the Symptoms of Cauliflower Ear?

As cauliflower ear is often the result of blunt trauma, the accompanying symptoms will depend on the severity of the trauma.

Generally, people with acute cauliflower ear will experience the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Deformity of the ear’s curvature

It is worth noting that the primary symptoms of cauliflower ear-related injuries are similar to the symptoms one might experience after sustaining blunt trauma elsewhere in the body.

How Do You Prevent Cauliflower Ear?

Black and white photograph of an athlete

If you enjoy participating in close-contact sports such as wrestling, boxing, or rugby, you have to put on the proper headgear first. Getting the appropriate fit for protective headgear is key, as a loose helmet could fall and put you at risk for injury, while tight headgear could damage your ears.

Aside from wearing protective gear, you also need to discuss the use of blood thinners with your doctor. Avoiding these medications before engaging in contact sports can help prevent cauliflower ear.

On the other hand, non-athletes who are planning to get high ear piercings should consult a doctor first, as cauliflower ear could develop if the ear cartilage becomes infected.

How Can You Treat Cauliflower Ear?

To prevent cauliflower ear, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. A doctor has to administer initial medical care before insufficient blood flow damages the tissue.

Your bruised ear needs to be iced as quickly as possible. This can be done by applying an ice pack every 15 minutes to minimize swelling. Do keep in mind that you should still seek immediate medical attention.

Cauliflower ear can also be prevented via blood drainage and compression. In order to drain the excess blood that has pooled in the ear, a doctor will have to make an incision in the injured area, allowing the blood to drain.

The doctor will also prescribe antibiotics and put a compression dressing on your ear after the drainage. Antibiotics will help prevent possible infections, while the compression dressing will ensure that your ear heals in the correct shape. However, you still need to check your ears for any possible swelling post-treatment since cauliflower ear could reoccur.

Can Cauliflower Ear be Reversed Through Corrective Surgery?

Although the deformity is permanent, the misshapen appearance could be potentially reversed through ear surgery or otoplasty. Similar to other surgical procedures, the ideal candidates for otoplasty should be in good general health. Any diseases or conditions that compromise the immune system have a higher chance of negatively impacting recovery time.

During the procedure, your doctor will expose your ear cartilage by making an incision behind your ear. He will then either extract some of the deformed cartilage or reshape your ear using stitches. In rare cases, the extracted cartilage will be replaced with tissue from the ribs.

The incision is then closed and sutured, and patients will have a small, unnoticeable scar behind the ear. Doctors will administer either general or local anesthesia during the procedure.

Cauliflower ear surgery usually takes between one to three hours to complete, depending on the complexity of the procedure. You should be able to resume normal physical activities six weeks after the procedure, though your doctor may recommend waiting longer. Your doctor will also monitor your recovery very carefully as there is a chance that the deformity may resurface.

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