The Ins And Outs Of Cauliflower Ears, And How They Can Be Surgically Restored

If you're interested in combat sports such as boxing or wrestling, or heavy contact sports such as football or rugby, you've probably seen your fair share of cauliflower ears in your time, and may even have one yourself.

However, anybody who has suffered some kind of blunt trauma to the ear, for instance during a car crash or an accident at work, can develop a cauliflower ear, and the resulting distortion of the affected ear can be a big knock to your self-confidence. Fortunately, plastic surgeons are adept at repairing and reshaping cauliflower ears, and reconstructive surgery can help restore your ear to its normal, natural shape.

What are cauliflower ears?

It may not look like much, but the average human ear is a complicated and delicate structure. Flexible bands of cartilage, very similar to the cartilage found in your nose, give the ear both strength and structure. However, the blood that keeps your ear cartilage alive and healthy is supplied by the skin covering your ear, and if your ear is badly damaged by blunt force trauma, the connections between your ear skin and the cartilage beneath can be torn apart.

When this happens, blood from the skin starts to pool in the space between the skin and the cartilage. With nowhere to drain to, this pool of blood starts to grow progressively, until the skin covering the blood starts to stretch and distort to accommodate the clotting blood. To make matters worse, the cartilage in the damaged ear starts to die and waste away as it loses its supply of blood.

With prompt treatment, the blood pooling in a damaged ear can be drained, allowing the skin and the cartilage to bond together once more and letting the ear return to its natural shape. However, if treatment is delayed for any reason, both the skin and cartilage can be permanently damaged. The skin is left permanently distorted and the dead cartilage is replaced with fibrous scar tissue, leading to the classic lumpy, shriveled appearance of a cauliflower ear.

How can reconstructive surgery restore a cauliflower ear?

If you have previously suffered ear damage and did not receive treatment in time, you may have been left with an unsightly cauliflower ear. However, while the ear will never revert to its original appearance by itself, it can be surgically restored by a skilled reconstructive surgeon. If you wish to have a cauliflower ear restored, you should seek out a reputable plastic or reconstructive surgeon, who will examine your ear and tell you whether it is suitable for surgical restoration.

During the surgical restoration of your damaged ear (known as an otoplasty), your surgeon will make a small incision behind the ear to expose the scar tissue which has caused the ear to become misshapen. This tissue is removed, and the damaged cartilage is restored to as close to its original shape as possible before the incision is closed.

This procedure can sound intimidating, but don't be put off. This type of procedure can usually be completed in just two or three hours and leaves a single, barely-noticeable scar that is hidden behind your newly-restored ear. It is usually done under local anesthetic (although general anesthetic may be available if you prefer it), and most patients can drive themselves home the same day.

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