What is a cauliflower ear?

A cauliflower ear is a type of deformity common among boxers and other athletes who play aggressive sports. It is the result of a head injury that leads to a perichondrial hematoma, a medical term for a collection of blood between the cartilage of the ear and the skin. This is also called hematoma auris, because it is located in the ear or auris. If left untreated, these bruises can lead to cauliflower ear.

The term comes from the appearance of a cauliflower ear. Cartilage tends to shrivel and fold in on itself, creating bunches and bumps that resemble the head of a cauliflower. Often the cauliflower ear will also be pale due to the limited blood supply, which makes the resemblance all the more striking. In individuals with severe cauliflower ear, the ear may be so crooked and swollen that it almost completely blocks the ear canal.

The bruises that cause cauliflower ear take the form of collections of fluids that are unable to drain from the ear. They usually start as small, hard lumps and slowly turn into large pockets of fluid that are soft and painful to the touch. Eventually the bruise will usually disperse. However, before this happens, the skin severed from the nutritional supply provided by the cartilage will die. The skin shrinks and contracts because it's not getting enough blood, and once a cauliflower ear forms, it's very difficult to reverse.

There are treatments for bruises that lead to cauliflower ear. Because the ear is prone to infections, it's important to treat these bruises as well, regardless of whether or not you care about your ear cosmetics. A doctor will lance the bruise, drain the fluid, and stitch the layers of the ears together in a mattress stitch to make sure the skin is firmly attached to the cartilage. The stitching also prevents fluid from building up again, although a doctor may also place a small fluid drain. Finally, the patient receives antibiotics to prevent infection.

Any animal with ears can have a cauliflower ear. They are common among cats and dogs, especially those with ear mites. Ear mites cause an animal to bite or scratch at its ear, as well as shake its head repeatedly. This trauma can cause a hematoma. As with humans, a bruise in a pet should be treated to prevent infections and disfigured ears.

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