If you’ve ever watched a boxing or MMA fight on television then chances are good that you may have noticed something a bit odd and maybe a bit disturbing about some of the fighters—their ears. Some fights have what is called “cauliflower ear” in which the outer ears have become deformed due to blunt-force trauma. This is most common in athletes who wrestle, box or are involved in contact sports (e.g. rugby). When someone develops auricular hematoma the goal is to always treat the problem right away to prevent cauliflower ear from happening in the future.
While wearing the proper headgear and protection can often prevent an auricular hematoma, sometimes injuries to the outer ear can still occur. When this hematoma surfaces the blood starts to collect, causing the cartilage and the connective tissue around it (perichondrium) to separate. If left untreated, the cartilage of the outer ear no longer gets the blood flow it needs, which leads to cartilage death (necrosis).
If this happens to you or someone you know it’s important that you seek treatment right away so that the ear can be properly drained and to prevent blood from collecting inside the ear. By coming in right away for medical care, an ENT doctor can prevent complications such as cartilage necrosis, infection, tympanic membrane rupture and cauliflower ear.
In order to properly drain the hematoma, this minor procedure is performed with a local anesthesia. Once the ear is numb, a small incision is made to the outer ear to drain the blood that has collected. Once the procedure is finished, there are several methods for which to bandage the ear.
Of course, one of the most common ways is to use thermoplastic splints, which prevent blood from re-accumulating within the ear. In other instances, a simple mattress suture is placed, which also prevents blood from collecting but doesn’t need to be removed (unlike splints). Once the sutures or splints have been placed, the ear will be covered with clean gauze. Finally, the head is wrapped in order to hold the gauze in place.
Before you leave, your ENT doctor will provide you with all the information you will need for how to keep the ear clean and protected as it heals. Just know that this kind of damage to the ear can be serious if left untreated. If you experienced this kind of trauma it’s important that you seek the guidance of an otolaryngologist right away so that we can tend to this traumatic injury and prevent complications.