Cauliflower ear is the condition which occurs when there is harm to the outer ear. Trauma causes bleeding underneath the thin layer which covers the cartilage. Cartilage is the bendy part of the ear. The membrane carries the blood vessels which supply the underlying cartilage with oxygen and nutrition in order for it to grow.
Cartilage does not have blood vessels flowing through it. When the outer membrane is stripped away then it loses its nutrient blood. This results in death of this part of the cartilage, leading to scarring and contraction. This bends and deforms the outer ear. The resulting effect can look like a cauliflower because the blood flow is reduced in the ear and it appears white.
Surprisingly, in the late 19th century the problem was thought to be caused by psychiatric problems. After this time it was realised that the cause was trauma. The condition is common amongst people who indulge in sports which result in repeated below this to the ears and head. This includes wrestlers, rugby players, martial artists and boxers.
The disorder can be prevented if it is caught in time. After the initial blow, bleeding under the membrane covering the ear needs to be removed promptly by a doctor. Sufferers should visit a facility where this can be done. Local anaesthetic will be inserted under the skin and a needle inserted into the collection of blood. The collection is called haematoma. The blood is drawn off and the ear packed with gauze and tape to prevent re-accumulation. The patient may be observed in hospital for a period to check that the blood does not build up again. The procedure requires practice and skill in order to be successful. People on blood thinners such as aspirin and warfarin may be more prone to the condition. Ears are prone to infection so antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent further problems.
If the ear does end up being deformed, surgery may be possible in order to correct the problem.
This post does not represent medical advice. Definitely pop-in on your doctor or other medical practitioner if you are unfortunate enough to have an ear problem.
Dr Toby Bateson, MD of ZenPlugs
Image By Drvikram008 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons