Cauliflower Ear

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Cauliflower ear is a defect that forms due to hits or blows to the ear. It causes blood to clot under the skin, leading to a bump on the ear that looks like a head of cauliflower.

If your child boxes or wrestles, wearing proper headgear can help prevent cauliflower ear.


Contact the Cleft-Craniofacial Center

Meet the team at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's Cleft-Craniofacial Center. Learn about our treatment options or make an appointment by calling 412-692-8650.


What Is Cauliflower Ear?

Cauliflower ear is the common term for an auricular hematoma — a collection of blood in the outer part of the ear.

The blood and other fluids that collect in the ear make it look lumpy like a head of cauliflower.

What causes cauliflower ear?

Some sort of trauma to the ear is always the cause of cauliflower ear. It's most common in boxers and wrestlers, who often get hit in the ears.

The outer ear is mostly made up of cartilage covered with skin.

When there's damage to the ear, sometimes the lining between the cartilage and skin splits away from the cartilage. This causes blood to pool into this space and clot, blocking the flow of blood and nutrients. Fluid also collects here.

Since blood and fluid fill the bumps, they're soft at first. But as cartilage grows to fill these spaces, the bumps become firm and permanent.

Cauliflower Ear Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the symptoms of cauliflower ear?

While this condition isn't life-threatening, it can be embarrassing to some children and causes lasting damage to the ear.

Cauliflower ear can also cause your child to have more frequent ear infections.

If the bumps are large, it can affect their hearing.

Other symptoms of cauliflower ear include:

  • Swelling on the outer part of the ear.
  • Soft bumps or bruising on the ear that get hard after time.
  • Loss of the ear's natural shape.

How do doctors diagnose cauliflower ear?

A doctor can easily diagnose cauliflower ear by looking at your child's ear.

To make an appointment for your child's cauliflower ear symptoms, call the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Cleft-Craniofacial Center at 412-692-8650.

Cauliflower Ear Treatment

Treating cauliflower ear early can help prevent the need for surgery and reduce any long-term damage.

If you notice bumps on your child's ear, you should seek treatment right away.

Your child's doctor will drain any bumps over the ear cartilage. They'll then place a bandage over the ear cartilage to let the ear repair itself.

Surgery to remove a hardened bump from your child's ear

As time goes on, the bumps on your child's ear may harden and will need surgical removal through a procedure called otoplasty.

It's crucial to see a surgeon with expert training in this procedure. Surgery done the wrong way can further damage the ear.

During an otoplasty, your child's surgeon will:

  • Make a cut to expose the ear's cartilage.
  • Remove any extra cartilage and reshape the ear.
  • Close the skin with stitches and apply special bandages to keep the ear from swelling again.

Your child may need to take antibiotics after surgery to prevent an ear infection.

To learn more about cauliflower ear treatment or make an appointment at the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Cleft-Craniofacial Center, call 412-692-8650.