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.