Those who are big fans of wrestling matches recognize very easily a cauliflower ear. For those who are not such big fans, for sure, you have noticed something different in athletes’ ears. The cauliflower ear, which is also known in the medical language as perichondrial hematoma, appears as a consequence of a trauma. Cauliflower ear occurs when blood pools in your pinna after it’s been hit or struck. The pinna is your outer ear. This pooling of blood, known as a hematoma, needs to be treated right away.
Even though there is no treatment for this condition, you can still prevent it. Therefore, one of the most important steps would be that once you see the signs, consult your doctor right away.
What are the symptoms?
You do not have to be wrestler to experience an injury or hit to the side of your head. Therefore, one of first things you should is check your outer ear for swelling or bruising. There are cases when you might notice a change to the shape of the ear. As blood begins to pool around the injured area, fresh blood supply to your ear cartilage is cut off.
If you leave this trauma untreated, the cauliflower ear might lead to:
- ringing in your ear
- hearing loss
- blurred vision
The Asian Journal of Sports Medicine published a study mentioning that wrestlers with cauliflower ear were significantly more likely to experience hearing loss than wrestlers without the condition. Cauliflower ear may also be associated with increased risk for ear infections. Catching the beginning signs of cauliflower ear will protect you from other complications down the road, as well as help prevent deformity of your ear.
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. This is how the cauliflower ear appears.
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.
If you leave this condition untreated, your 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 will become permanent. In addition, your ear will appear pale, due to loss of blood supply. Luckily, the cosmetic procedures identified so far can help in regaining the normal 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.
What is the treatment?
If you have injured your ear, you can put ice as soon as possible on the injury. You can do this by applying ice for 15-minute intervals. That will help reduce the swelling and may prevent cauliflower ear. You should also seek medical treatment right away.
Drainage and compression
As soon as you reached your doctor, he can help drain the excess of blood from your ear. He will make an incision at the site of the injury so that the blood can drain out of the injury.
After draining your ear, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help prevent infection. Your doctor will also place a compression dressing on your ear to ensure that it heals in the correct shape.
During the recovery period you will need to avoid activities that may cause additional trauma to your ear until your ear is completely healed. Cauliflower ear can reoccur, so it’s important to monitor your ear for swelling even after it’s been drained.
Cauliflower ear is permanent, but in some cases, you may be able to reverse the appearance using corrective surgery, known as otoplasty. During the surgery, your doctor makes a cut behind your ear to expose the cartilage. He will either remove some of the cartilage or uses stitches to reshape your ear. You may need general anesthetic for the surgery, but in some cases, a local anesthetic can be used.
You should be able to resume physical activities within six weeks, though your doctor may recommend waiting longer.
How can you prevent it?
There is no other best prevention method than preventing the trauma in the first place. If you participate in high-risk sports, such as wrestling, you can use a helmet to protect yourself.
You should also talk to your doctor about the use of blood thinners while participating in contact sports. Blood thinners can increase your risk for cauliflower ear, so avoiding the use of them before participating in a contact sport may help prevent this condition.
Never stop taking medications your doctor has prescribed without first speaking to them.