How To Get Cauliflower Ears?

Cauliflower ear is a condition in which the shape of a person’s ear is altered permanently as a result of often high levels of trauma to the area.

What is cauliflower ear?

As external and relatively fragile parts of the body, certain contact or violent sports can result in the development of this condition. This may include, but is not limited to, boxing, wrestling and other forms of fighting sport, as well as heavy contact sport such as rugby.

Cauliflower ear appears as a deformity and is often distinctive in its appearance with a lumpy or very bumpy appearance that is permanent in many cases without plastic surgery. The injury itself that causes this condition is one that causes a blockage that blood cannot penetrate, leading to a reduction in blood flow and damage to the tissues.

Cauliflower ear is named as such because those with this condition have ears or a single ear that has a similar appearance to that of the cauliflower plant, making this condition fairly easy to self-diagnose prior to visiting a doctor for confirmation. The physical condition that occurs is actually the ear cartilage contracting in on itself, which forms the shriveled appearance that is commonly associated with boxers and wrestlers.

As well as having the signature shriveled look, this condition can also make the ear appear very pale due to lack of blood flow, which is often very apparent compared to the skin tone of the face and body. This occurs following the death of the cartilage and fibrosis, or scarring, meaning at this point the condition is permanent.

Early treatment of this condition can be very effective in restoring blood flow, but the sooner the treatment is performed the less likely permanent deformity will occur.

In many cases, cauliflower ear can be prevented, and the ears protected, by wearing a helmet during particularly aggressive or violent sports.

What causes cauliflower ear?

A punch hit or otherwise trauma to the ear is the most likely and common cause of cauliflower ear. This trauma can lead to hepatomas - also known as a small collection or collections of blood vessels that clot and then block the flow of blood to the area. This also blocks any nutrients from entering the area.

The skin being pulled away from the cartilage in a sudden or aggressive manner can also result in this condition, though this is more likely to result in tearing depending upon the circumstances.

The majority of cases of cauliflower ear are directly as a result of a sports-related injury, in which direct trauma has occurred to the ear during play. This could be a result of wrestling, martial arts combat or other forms of very physical sports-based fighting.

Though these contact sports can increase the risk of cauliflower ear occurring, due to the increased level of trauma, it is not the sole cause of this condition. An infection in or around the earlobe can also produce very similar results. This could be caused by physical trauma other than sports, such as piercings, and in particular cartilage piercings.

The symptoms of cauliflower ear that are likely to be experienced following contracting this illness are as follows:

  • Sudden blunt trauma resulting in swelling, bruising and pain
  • The cauliflower-like appearance of the ear as a result of shrinkage
  • Lack of blood flow through the ear area, making the ear seem pale
  • Signs of scarring and cartilage death

Other severe symptoms associated with cauliflower ear are often also the result of the trauma caused to the ear and by extension the head. In the case of these symptoms, it’s important to seek a doctor’s advice as soon as possible as further, head-based injuries may have occurred:

  • A sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ear or ears
  • Sudden, painful headaches
  • Vision that is blurred
  • Swelling of the face and neck
  • High levels of bleeding from the affected ear

Treatment for cauliflower ear

In order to prevent trauma to the ear from developing into permanent cauliflower ear, it’s important to seek and administer treatment as quickly as possible following the trauma. In many cases, this can prevent the condition from becoming permanent and restore the ear to its previous condition or similar.

Treatment for cauliflower ear aims to restore the blood flow to the area in order to deliver this blood to the affected tissues which were cut off. This can be done by a doctor removing a clot or draining excess blood from the ear area with a scalpel or other sharp implement.

Stitches may be required following this treatment, and a bandage to put pressure on the area will aid in the healing of the area. Antibiotics may also be prescribed for any sign of infection.

During the time of treatment for cauliflower ear, it’s important to avoid any form of physical contact or trauma that may cause further harm to the affected area, in order to promote a better chance of healing and reduce the chance of permanent disfiguration of the ear.

Prevention of cauliflower ear

As many cases of cauliflower ear are directly caused by trauma from a variety of sports, it’s important to ensure the ears are kept safe and out of harm’s way when engaging with these activities to the best of your ability. A good fitting headgear or helmet can provide the support you need to continue sports with less risk of developing cauliflower ear in the future.

It should be considered if protective gear is needed for any of the following sports:

  • Boxing
  • Rugby
  • Wrestling
  • Martial arts
  • Other fighting or contact sports

In order to prevent cauliflower ear from going unnoticed and becoming permanent, it is also important to thoroughly examine yourself following trauma to the area. Any damage should be reported and checked by a doctor as soon as possible in order to achieve the most effective treatment possible.

Equally, it’s important to avoid further trauma to the ear area following any inflicted trauma such as cartilage piercings. Keeping an eye on the condition of the ear following this trauma can also allow you to catch any signs of damage or lack of blood flow early.

For cauliflower ears that are past the point of early treatment, the damage may already be done with no way to restore the blood flow to the area, leaving the appearance of the ear permanently deformed and shriveled. In this case, a doctor or surgeon may be able to advise on cosmetic procedures to alter or change the appearance of the ear.