A number of different injuries can affect the outer ear. A blunt blow to the external ear can cause bruising between the cartilage and the layer of connective tissue around it (perichondrium). When blood collects in this area, the external ear becomes swollen and purple. The collected blood (hematoma) can cut off the blood supply to the cartilage, allowing that portion of the cartilage to die, leading in time to a deformed ear. This deformity, called a cauliflower ear, is common among wrestlers, boxers, and rugby players.
A doctor cuts open the hematoma and removes the blood with suction. After the hematoma is empty, the doctor applies a compression dressing, which is left on for 3 to 7 days to keep the hematoma from coming back. The dressing keeps the skin and perichondrium in their normal positions, allowing blood to reach the cartilage again.
If a cut (laceration) goes all the way through the ear, the area is cleaned thoroughly, the skin is sewn back together, and a dressing is applied to protect the area and allow the cartilage to heal. The cartilage is not sewn.
A forceful blow to the jaw may fracture the bones surrounding the ear canal and distort the canal's shape, often narrowing it. The shape can be corrected surgically.
Last full review/revision July 2008 by Eiji Yanagisawa, MD