Cauliflower Ear: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Cauliflower ear – also known as boxer’s ear – is a term used to describe the deformity of the outer ear. The deformity is caused by blunt trauma and injuries. It occurs when the ear cartilage gets inflamed or injured. Blood starts forming in large pockets in the outer ear, causing a lumpy ear shape similar to a cauliflower.

If left untreated, cauliflower ear could cause damaged tissues due to blocked blood flow. The affected area has to be treated right away to prevent permanent deformity.

Signs and Symptoms of Cauliflower Ear

The most common sign of cauliflower ear is a disfigured outer ear. The affected area becomes painful and inflamed. Hematoma could develop on the injured part of the ear. Also, the curvature of the ear is bumpy or swollen. In severe cases, cauliflower ear could cause tinnitus or ear ringing, loss of hearing and searing headaches. Other symptoms include blurry vision, facial swelling, and profuse bleeding.

Causes of Cauliflower Ear

Cauliflower ear is common among professional fighters, like martial artists, wrestlers, and boxers. The constant trauma to the ear causes cartilage damage. Without the right gears, the ears are vulnerable to blunt trauma.

In 2014, a fight between UFC fighters, Leslie Smith and Jessica Eye was stopped because Smith’s cauliflower ear exploded. The fighter has an untreated cauliflower ear and it ruptured after a direct hit. The fight had to be stopped because of profuse bleeding.

The ears are extremely sensitive to blood clots. When the connective tissues within the ears are damaged, it causes bruising. Unfortunately, the ears do not have blood supply other than the one given by the overlying skin. When the skin is pulled out from the cartilage, the cartilage has no way of receiving important nutrients. Eventually, the cartilage dies and becomes infected.

If cauliflower ear is left untreated, the dead cartilage will shrivel up on the outer ear. Once the cartilage is dead, scarring occurs. The deformity becomes permanent. The ears will take on a pale appearance because of the lack of blood supply. In most cases, corrective surgery is needed to improve the ear’s appearance.

Other than blunt trauma, the cartilage can be damaged by piercing, bacterial infection and even polychondritis relapse.

Treatment and Prevention

Don’t wait too long to treat cauliflower ears or the cartilage will die. The treatment for this condition is focused on preventing cartilage damage.  The blood pooling into the affected area has to be drained. This relieves the pain and pressure within the skin tissues.

A small incision is made in the bumpy part of the outer ear. Then, the doctor will apply a compressive wound dressing that will press the sides of the skin. This helps squeeze any remaining blood out of the affected area.

If the affected area is infected, medication is administered to prevent inflammation. For proper treatment and healing, refer to an ear, nose and throat doctor or an otolaryngologist. For corrective surgery, go for a licensed plastic surgeon.

If you’re a professional fighter or an athlete, it’s important to wear protective head gears to prevent cauliflower ear. If you sustained an ear injury, have it checked and treated right away to prevent deformity.


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