Cauliflower Ear: The Basics

Cauliflower Ear: The Basics

What is a cauliflower ear? What causes cauliflower ear? How is cauliflower ear prevented? How is cauliflower ear treated?

May 1, 2020 by Lindsey Holder
Cauliflower Ear: The Basics

Wrestler’s ear or cauliflower ear is important for all combat and grappling athletes to be aware of. Although not exclusively caused by sports, auricular hematomas (or "ear bruises" in layman's terms) as they’re called in the medical community, can permanently affect an injured person's anatomy and their health.

What is a cauliflower ear?

Auricular hematomas (the first stage) is defined as trauma to the cartilage of the ear and by a collection of blood in the injured area. Blood and other fluids collect in the perichondrium (right under the skin) of the cartilage, typically after direct trauma and/or shear forces and can eventually block the normal blood flow to that part of the ear cartilage. The deformed appearance of this condition is caused by the addition of more cartilage over and around the “trapped” and hardened blood clots that form after the initial injury.

What causes cauliflower ear?

The most common cause of cauliflower ear is blunt trauma to the ear, which can result in hematoma and, if left untreated, will lead to the distinct cauliflower-like appearance. This can also be caused by infections of the ear/skin and various autoimmune disorders. 

What are some misconceptions of cauliflower ear?

According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, “One of the biggest misconceptions about cauliflower ear is that most people believe that it’s something that takes years to develop and happens slowly over time. While this can be the case for some athletes, for many cauliflower ear is something that essentially occurs overnight after a single instance of trauma to the ear.”

How is cauliflower ear prevented and treated?

Obviously, this information should be used only as a reference and you should always consult with your doctor before starting any type of treatment. According to most medical professionals, this condition is irreversible once the blood and fluid trapped in the ear harden. So, it would make perfect sense that the best way to treat this condition is to have a doctor or nurse drain this fluid from the area immediately after symptoms begin to develop. Permanent deformity, infection, and even necrosis (tissue death) is an associated risk of not treating cauliflower ear (depending on the degree of severity, of course).

Headgear which protects the ear from blunt trauma is the best and most effective way to prevent cauliflower ear. It should be noted that in 2017, the NCAA’s stance was that “ear protection must be worn, and while it still recommends that all student-athletes wear the equipment in both practice and competition, it would be the student-athletes' choice.”