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What is a Cauliflower Ear?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cauliflower ear is a type of deformity common among boxers and other athletes who engage in rugged sports. It is the result of head trauma leading to a perichondrial hematoma, a medical term for a collection of blood in between the cartilage of the ear and the skin. This is also called a hematoma auris, because it is located on the ear, or auris. If left untreated, these hematomas can result in a cauliflower ear.

The term comes from the appearance of a cauliflower ear. The cartilage tends to wither and fold over on itself, creating clusters and lumps which resemble the head of a cauliflower. Often, the ear will also be pale due to limited blood supply, making the resemblance even more striking. In individuals with severe cases, the ear may be so twisted and swollen that it almost entirely blocks the ear canal.

The hematomas which cause cauliflower ear take the form of collections of fluids which cannot drain from the ear. They usually start out as small, hard lumps, and slowly turn into large pockets of fluid that are soft and painful to the touch. Eventually, the hematoma usually will disperse itself. However, before this happens, the skin cut off from the nutritional supply provided by the cartilage will die. The skin shrivels and bunches up because it is not getting enough blood, and once a cauliflower ear forms, it is very difficult to reverse.

There are treatments for the hematomas which lead to cauliflower ear. Because the ear is prone to infection, it is also important to treat these hematomas, whether or not you care about the cosmetics of your ear. A doctor will lance the hematoma, draining the fluid from it, and will stitch the layers of the ears together in a mattress stitch to ensure that the skin is firmly attached to the cartilage. The stitching also prevents fluid from collecting again, although a doctor may also place a small fluid drain. Finally, the patient is given antibiotics to prevent infection.

Any animal with ears can get a cauliflower ear. They are common among cats and dogs, especially those with ear mites. Ear mites cause an animal to bite or scratch at its ear, and also to shake its head repeatedly. This trauma can result in a hematoma. Just like with humans, a hematoma in a pet should be treated to prevent infection and disfigured ears.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon80368 — On Apr 27, 2010

It doesn't affect equilibrium at all. It is only the outer ear that cauli affects, and equilibrium will only be affected if massive trauma occurs, creating build-up of pressure that could possibly rupture the ear drum. Although this is highly unlikely and has never happened to me or any other fighter i train with or know through the sport.

The biggest issue is the closing of the canal which makes in ear headphones useless, not to mention muffled sound all the time. But it is a badge of honor that shows you have put your time in at training and fighting, and is almost a secret code to spot another fighter or grappler when out.

By anon13674 — On Jun 02, 2008

I would like to know how Cauliflower Ear affects the equilibrium?

By bigmetal — On Feb 21, 2008

my brother, who has always done martial arts, and has recently started cage fighting, thinks cauliflower ear is cool! i think he's crazy! i will tell him that the hematoma can develop infections, and to be careful about these! thanks for the info!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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