Cauliflower ear, also called “boxer’s ear” or “wrestler’s ear,” is an injury that deforms the appearance of the outer ear. The ear is a surprisingly delicate organ and very susceptible to trauma. When the ear is hit and a blood clot (hematoma) develops under the skin, or the skin is pulled from the underlying cartilage, the connection of the skin to the cartilage is disrupted and the cartilage withers and dies. The ear folds in on itself as the cartilage shrivels and blood flow is compromised, becoming bumpy, pale, and wrinkled (hence the name). It is also at higher risk of infection.
Ideally, if you’re engaged in a contact sport such as martial arts, boxing, or wrestling, you protect your ears by wearing a helmet. But if it’s too late for that and you’ve already sustained trauma to the ear, you should be treated promptly by an otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in the care of the ear, nose, and throat) before cartilage damage becomes permanent. By draining the hematoma, reconnecting the cartilage to the skin, and prescribing antibiotics to prevent infection, it’s possible to prevent cauliflower deformity.
More advanced cases of cauliflower ear require plastic surgery to reconstruct the damaged section of the ear. Cauliflower ears are notoriously difficult to repair. Cartilage grafts as well as cartilage shaving can repair the shape of the ear and are best left to specialized facial plastic surgeons.
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