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Assessment and management of auricular hematoma and cauliflower ear

Kelly Michele Malloy, MD
Section Editors
Anne M Stack, MD
Allan B Wolfson, MD
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


Auricular hematoma typically results from blunt trauma to the auricle (outer ear) during sports (eg, amateur wrestling, rugby, boxing, or mixed martial arts). This injury warrants prompt drainage and measures to prevent reaccumulation of blood. Cauliflower ear is the permanent deformity caused by fibrocartilage overgrowth that occurs when an auricular hematoma is not fully drained, recurs, or is left untreated (picture 1).

This topic reviews the assessment and management of auricular hematoma focusing on an approach that best avoids the long-term complication of cauliflower ear. The assessment and management of auricle (ear) lacerations is discussed separately. (See "Assessment and management of auricle (ear) lacerations".)


The uniquely protuberant nature of the external ear makes it particularly susceptible to trauma. The cartilaginous subunits of the pinna include the helix, the antihelix, the concha, tragus, and antitragus (figure 1) [1]. The lobule, or ear lobe, is composed of fibroadipose tissue and lacks cartilage. The skin overlying the cartilaginous auricle, or pinna, is thin, without significant subcutaneous adipose tissue, and is densely adherent to the underlying perichondrium. The perichondrium, in turn, supplies nutrients to the auricular cartilage.

When traumatic hematoma occurs, the blood accumulates within the subperichondrial space (between the perichondrium and cartilage). This collection of blood is a mechanical barrier between the cartilage and its perichondrial blood supply [1]. Deprived of perfusion, the underlying cartilage necroses and may become infected. These pathologic changes result in cartilage loss followed by fibrosis and neocartilage formation. This healing process is disorganized and results in the cosmetic deformity of cauliflower ear (picture 1). Early drainage of the hematoma and re-apposition of the perichondrial layer to the underlying cartilage restores perfusion to the cartilage and reduces the likelihood of cauliflower ear.


Auricular hematoma and cauliflower ear are common sports injuries. While epidemiologic data are lacking, rugby, boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts or "ultimate fighting" are the sports typically associated with these injuries. Fighters who do not wear protective head gear are at greater risk. As an example, in a survey of collegiate wrestlers, auricular injuries occurred more frequently among wrestlers who were not wearing headgear (52 versus 26 percent for auricular hematoma and 27 versus 11 percent for cauliflower ear, respectively) [2]. Fighters with auricular hematoma also tend to ignore the injury and, even if treated, risk recurrent injury with ultimate development of cauliflower ear [3].


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Sep 9, 2015.
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