Cauliflower ear is a permanent change in the shape (deformity) of the outer ear. It is caused by injury.
Cauliflower ear starts as a collection of blood between the skin of the ear and the inner cartilage of the ear after an injury. The collection of blood is called a hematoma. It is often seen after being hit in the ear. This is most common in sports such as wrestling, boxing and rugby, after being hit in the ear. If the hematoma is not properly treated, it will eventually turn into scar tissue. This scar tissue has been said to look like a cauliflower.
The hematoma is painful and swollen at first, but the pain goes away in a few weeks.
Your healthcare provider will examine your ear. You will not need any tests.
If the hematoma is new, it needs to be drained (aspirated) by a trained healthcare provider. Once the hematoma is drained, it often fills up with more fluid. To prevent fluid from collecting again, a special dressing that puts pressure on the injured area, called a compression dressing, will be put on your ear. You may have a small cast put on your ear, or the special dressing can be attached (usually with sutures) to the ear to prevent the fluid from collecting again. Your healthcare provider may give you antibiotics to prevent infection.
If the fluid is properly drained and does not collect again, the skin will attach back to the ear cartilage, preventing the scar tissue and the deformity of cauliflower ear.
The hematoma needs to be drained and fully healed after using the compression dressing before you play a contact sport. Your healthcare provider will tell you when you can safely return to your sport. Once the deformity of cauliflower ear has happened, more activity does not usually make it worse.
Using protective head gear in sports such as wrestling is the best way for you to prevent injury to the ear. Prompt and proper drainage and compression of the hematoma are important to prevent cauliflower ear.