You’ve probably seen a fair share of athletes and sports players whose ears are covered in lumps and bumps. This is known as cauliflower ear and is pretty common in many contact sports.
From wrestlers and boxers to rugby players who often have their heads bashed around in scrums, cauliflower ear is a weird word to describe the tears and bruising caused by severe trauma to the outer cartilage of the ear.
Read on to find out more about the causes of cauliflower ear, what you can do to prevent it, and if there are any ways to cure or minimize it once it has formed.
Let’s get into it!
What Is Cauliflower Ear?
As mentioned above, cauliflower ear, or Hematoma Auris, is the weird lumps and bumps formed from repetitive injury to the cartilage in the ear.
Cauliflower ear is the result of a traumatic blow to the outer ear. Blood and other fluids build up in the space between, causing disruption to the blood supply, ultimately leading to the starvation of nutrients and oxygen to the cartilage in the ear, at which point it becomes hard and fibrous which results in disfigurement.
Blunt force trauma in any regard that separates the skin from the outer layer of the ear is the root cause of cauliflower ear.
The signs and symptoms of cauliflower ear are as follows:
- Localized swelling and immediate redness around the cartilage of the ear.
- Fluid build-up and skin irritation in the outer portion of the ear.
This damage can also increase the risk of infection, making matters worse.
What Are The Main Causes Of Cauliflower Ear?
The main causes of cauliflower ear are repeated and sustained blows to the ear and surrounding area. These blows can damage the whole structure and shape of the outer areas of the ear.
For cauliflower ear to form, one’s ear must be struck with enough force that large blood clots, or lumps of blood, form under the skin.
Another way that cauliflower ear can form is by stripping the skin from the ear away from the cartilage.
You can even develop cauliflower ear from repetitive movements that regularly bend the cartilage of the ear, such as putting on and taking off a tight helmet constantly (like you would as a biker).
The reason these things cause cauliflower ear is that they restrict the blood flow to the rest of the ear.
For the cartilage to be its healthy, flexible self, it needs blood flow to provide it with nutrients and oxygen.
When the blood is caught in severe wounds, or blood clots, this usually healthy cartilage that provides the ear with structure, starts to shrivel and die.
When this cartilage dies, the person’s ears can look like this permanently.
You will often see this in rugby players who constantly have their heads in rucks and scrums, getting bashed about and sustaining constant injury.
Most professional athletes do not have the time or want to get surgery or stitches after they bust up their ear, as this would mean they would be unavailable to play.
As is also the case for many professional boxers. Rather than taking the time to drain the ear and stitch up the torn area, which would require a patient to take some time away from the boxing ring and anything that would rip stitches, many choose to let the cartilage die off and keep sparring in the ring.
What Can You Do To Prevent Cauliflower Ear?
Preventing cauliflower ear is a simple matter of protection. Yeah, they may not be the most fashionable choice, but a good scrum cap and the right protective headgear will go a long way in helping you to protect your ears from those harsh blows.
Cauliflower ear is not only disfiguring, but it can also be incredibly painful and is worth avoiding.
Not only does wearing the right sort of headgear help you protect your ears from trauma, but it also helps you to protect your head from serious injury as well.
You can get cauliflower ear from all sorts of activities, from cycling, blading, skating, rugby, or any contact martial arts so it’s important to take the time to invest in some proper headgear, especially when you are first starting.
Any sport or blow to the head can cause cauliflower ear so it’s important to protect your head when falling.
Can Cauliflower Ear Be Cured?
There are a few things you can do if you suffer a traumatic blow to the sides of your ears, or you notice the symptoms of redness and localized swelling.
- Ice the ear as soon as you can. This can help in reducing the swelling and may prevent blood clots and cauliflower ears from forming.
- Seek immediate medical attention.
Once you are seeing a doctor, hopefully as soon as the injury occurs, you may be able to treat the injury:
- Drainage – Your doctor may be able to drain the excess blood from your ear to prevent a clot, which would help the circulation to your cartilage by making a small incision at the site of the injury to prevent a build-up of blood and other fluid.
- Compression – Even after it is drained, cauliflower ear can reoccur so it is important to keep the area compressed to make sure fluid doesn’t have a chance to build up.
- Antibiotics – The wound is very open to infection and your doctor should prescribe you a course of antibiotics that you must take until the end of the prescription to avoid the risk of infection.
- Avoid Contact – You must avoid bashing your ear and contact sports whilst your ear is healing.
If you don’t treat it soon enough, the swelling will cause the cartilage to thicken and scar, starting to look like a lumpy cauliflower, hence the name.
Unfortunately, once the thickening and scarring occur, the only thing you can do is reconstructive surgery to fix the ear.
Cauliflower ear is a common occurrence in contact sports and should be taken seriously, as the scarring and lumps build up fast if it is not treated.
Many people leave it too late due to games or need to not take breaks in professional careers, but as a hobbyist or amateur, there’s no excuse not to look after your ears and wear the right protective equipment, and get it treated as soon as possible.