Cauliflower ear (aka an auricular hematoma) is an injury to the ear that causes internal bleeding and inflammation — the top part essentially puffs up. It’s caused by a significant direct blow, excessive friction from rubbing or repetitive, minor trauma to the ear. Cauliflower ear is a relatively common injury in wrestling, mixed martial arts, rugby, boxing and water polo. Treatment essentially involves combating the swelling and then draining the blood, which must be done within about 48 hours to avoid permanent disfigurement. The use of syringes and needles to drain a cauliflower should always be done by medical professionals unless you find yourself in an emergency situation.
Apply ice. Immediately after an injury to your ear that causes swelling, stop your activity and apply ice (or something cold) in order to reduce the inflammation and numb the pain. The ice will reduce the flow of blood into the space between the skin and cartilage of your upper ear. Apply the cold therapy for about 10 minutes at a time, every hour or so, for about three to four hours from the time of the injury.
- Wrap the ice cubes, crushed ice or frozen gel pack in a thin cloth before applying it to your ear in order to prevent frostbite or skin irritation.
- As an alternative, use a small bag of frozen vegetables or fruit to combat the swelling of your ear.
Use a head wrap to compress your injured ear. In addition to applying ice to your swollen ear, wrap a Tensor or Ace bandage around your head so you feel pressure against your ear. The combination of cold therapy and compression is the most effective way to combat swelling of virtually all musculoskeletal injuries. Pressure can stop the internal bleeding faster, thereby reducing the severity of the cauliflower deformity.
- You can also use a long strip of gauze or an elastic exercise band to compress the ice against your ear.
- Consider wedge packing some gauze in front of and behind your ear before wrapping it with a stretchy bandage to increase the pressure on it.
- Do not wrap the gauze so tightly that it causes a headache or dizziness or cuts off circulation, as blood flow is necessary to carry away excess fluid. You should also avoid wrapping it in a way that causes the gauze to block your vision or reduce hearing in your uninjured ear.
- Remove the bandage once every hour to let your ear rest.
Take anti-inflammatories. Another method of reducing swelling and the pain of a cauliflower ear is to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin or naproxen (Aleve). Take them as soon as possible after your injury for best results. Combine them with cold therapy and compression also.
- Painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) are obviously helpful for pain, but they don’t reduce swelling at all.
- Aspirin and ibuprofen can increase and worsen internal bleeding, so ask your doctor if anti-inflammatories are appropriate for your case.
- Don’t take anti-inflammatories for longer than two weeks in order to reduce side effects, such as stomach and kidney irritation. For cauliflower ear, a couple of days of medication is probably sufficient.