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If you’ve watched a professional rugby match, you might have noticed some players’ ears look lumpy or swollen. This is called Cauliflower Ear. This swelling occurs as a result of a blood clot that forms after physical trauma to the outer ear. What is cauliflower ear? Is it permanent, and does it have any long term effects on the ear or hearing? To find out, we asked Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist Dr Michael Molyneaux for help. Here are the answers to today’s Big Questions.

What is Cauliflower Ear?

Cauliflower ear occurs when the outer ear has been physically damaged. It is most commonly seen in rugby players and wrestlers as their ears are often exposed to knocks while playing. It can also occur as a result of an infection after piercing the upper portion of the ear. The trauma to the ear causes a subperichondrial haematoma which results in cartilage damage. This leads to a loss of blood supply to other areas in the ear, which in turn leads to fibrosis, or a build up of fibrous tissue. This changes the shape of the ear. If not treated immediately it can become permanent.

How do you treat it?

In order to prevent cauliflower ear, immediate treatment is needed. If the ear is knocked, immediately ice it to prevent swelling and seek medical attention right away. It’s best to see an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist about this condition. A medical or surgical intervention may be needed to allow the ear to heal into the right shape and avoid further swelling. It is crucial to avoid further damage to the ear while it is healing, so avoid contact sports during this time. Unfortunately, once the cauliflower ear has developed, it cannot be corrected.

Long Term Effects of Cauliflower Ear

If left untreated, cauliflower ear may become permanent. This means, of course, that the ear will not look normal. However, far more important is the possible impact on the inner parts of the ear. Any trauma harsh enough to damage the outer ear has the potential of causing other damage as well. The ear drum, middle ear bones, and indeed the cochlea, can all be harmed by physical trauma to the head, especially if the knock is in the general area of the ear. If you have experienced trauma to the head at all, hearing assessment is strongly recommended. In addition, it has been found that sportsmen with cauliflower ear are more likely to experience sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. It also appears that ear infections are more likely for people with this condition.

Prevention is crucial

Because there is no ‘cure’ for cauliflower ear, it is very important that the ears are protected. When playing a contact sport such as rugby or wrestling, wear a scrum cap, helmet, or other head protection that covers the ears. Although professional sportsmen are most at risk, remember that anyone can experience damage to the ear during contact sports. It’s important to make sure that children and teenagers are always protected during school-level sport. Be aware of the importance of early intervention so that you can avoid permanent damage.

If you would like more information about cauliflower ear, comment below or contact us. If you are concerned that you have have experienced trauma to the ear, you can find an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist in South Africa here.