What's Cauliflower Ear?

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What's Cauliflower Ear?

Have you ever seen someone whose ear looks bumpy and lumpy? The person might have cauliflower ear. That sure is a funny name. Let's find out more about it.

Cauliflower ear occurs after someone gets a hit or repeated hits to the ear. Wrestlers and boxers are more likely to have cauliflower ear because their ears may be hit while they're in a match. These blows can damage the shape and structure of the outside of the ear.

For cauliflower ear to form, the ear has to be struck hard enough for a large blood clot (lump of blood) to develop under the skin. Another way cauliflower ear can happen is when the ear's skin is stripped away from the cartilage, the flexible material that gives a normal ear its shape.

This cartilage needs oxygen and nutrients carried by the flow of blood. A tear, severe bruise, or blood clot can block the blood flow. If that happens, the cartilage can die. Without cartilage to keep its firm, rounded shape, the ear shrivels a bit and the cauliflower look begins to appear. Once this happens, the person's ear may look like this permanently.

You may be wondering if there's any way to prevent cauliflower ear. Wearing the right headgear when playing sports — especially contact sports — is a must. Helmets not only can save you from developing cauliflower ear but protect you from serious head injury as well. Always wear a helmet if you are biking, blading, riding your scooter, or playing any sport where helmets or other forms of headgear are recommended or required (like football, baseball, hockey, boxing, or wrestling).

If someone receives a sharp blow to the ear, there are ways to prevent cauliflower ear. A doctor can drain the blood from the ear through a cut and then reconnect skin to the cartilage by applying a tight bandage. Sometimes stitches are needed to sew the ear if the skin is badly ripped. The doctor may sometimes give the patient antibiotics to prevent an infection. If it's caught and treated early enough, a person usually will not get cauliflower ear.

With a little protection, you can make sure that the only cauliflower you see is on your dinner plate!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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