Cauliflower Ear

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What is cauliflower ear?

Cauliflower ear (boxer's ear, wrestler's ear) is an acquired deformity of the outer ear. It is usually due to blunt trauma to the ear. When the cartilage of the ear is injured by trauma or inflammation, the blood supply from the skin is disrupted, often forming a large pocket of blood, called a hematoma. As the injury to the ear heals it can shrivel up and fold in on itself and appear pale, giving it a cauliflower-like appearance, hence the term cauliflower ear. Wrestlers, boxers, and martial artists in particular are susceptible to this type of injury.

What causes cauliflower ear?

The ear is vulnerable to blunt trauma. When the ear is struck and a blood clot develops under the skin, or the skin is sheared from the cartilage, the connection of the skin to the cartilage is disrupted, causing cauliflower ear.

The cartilage of the ear has no other blood supply except that supplied by the overlying skin. When the skin is pulled from the cartilage, and/or separated from the cartilage by blood (as with accumulated blood from injury or inflammation, or infection), the cartilage is deprived of important nutrients. Ultimately, the cartilage dies and the risk of infection is increased.

Untreated, the ear cartilage contracts on itself forming a shriveled up outer ear, known as the cauliflower ear deformity. Once cartilage death and scarring (fibrosis) occurs, the resulting deformity is generally permanent. The ear may also appear pale, due to loss of blood supply. In some cases, cosmetic procedures may improve the appearance of the ear.

Cartilage damage may also result from piercing the upper ear in the cartilage. Piercing can lead to a type of ear cartilage infection called auricular perichondritis, which can result in cauliflower ear. An even more rare cause of cauliflower ear is from the inflammation of cartilage in relapsing polychondritis.

Picture of a normal ear, and cauliflower ear
Picture of a normal ear, and cauliflower ear
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2014

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Cauliflower Ear - Cause Question: What was the cause or type of injury that resulted in a cauliflower ear in you or someone you know?
Cauliflower Ear - Symptoms Question: How did you injure your ear? Were there other injuries involved? Please describe your symptoms.
Cauliflower Ear - Treatment Question: What forms of treatment did you receive for your cauliflower ear?

Ear Anatomy

The anatomy of the ear can be a little confusing, especially since the ear is responsible not only for hearing, but also for balance.

There are three components to the ear: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. All three are involved in hearing but only the inner ear is responsible for balance.