These instructions assume that you're comfortable or adventurous enough to use a syringe to aspirate (drain) your own ear. If you’re uncomfortable with doing this yourself, please schedule a visit with an ENT or sports medicine doctor ASAP.
Cauliflower ear is the result of an auricular hematoma (blood clot) caused by a hard impact to the ear. The impact causes the skin to separate from the cartilage giving the ear its shape, and the gap swells up with blood. If left untreated, the blood will thicken and new fibrous tissue will begin to form. After just 7-10 days, the auricular hematoma will harden into a permanently swollen shape resembling a cauliflower.
Earies or similarly-sized neodymium magnets — 1/2" (12mm) x 1/8" (3mm)
22-24 gauge syringe *
Alcohol swabs or rubbing alcohol with cotton rounds
Disposable gloves (optional but recommended)
Neosporin or other antibacterial ointment
*A note on syringes: In the United States, they're available over the counter at any of the national pharmacy chains (CVS, Walgreens, etc) for around $0.25-$1.00 each. Common needle sizes range from 14 gauge (large diameter) to 28 gauge (very small diameter, typically used for insulin injections). Try to find a size somewhere in-between because viscous blood drains more easily with a larger diameter needle. Pick up a few extras so you’ll be ready in case it happens again.
You can drain the auricular hematoma by yourself or with your coach, a professional ENT/doctor, or a very close, non-squeamish friend.
- Wash your hands or put on disposable gloves and thoroughly clean the affected ear with alcohol.
- Insert the needle into the plumpest part of the hematoma and slowly draw back the plunger to drain the blood. You shouldn’t have to draw very hard to get the blood out. Be patient and gently press down on the clot to get as much blood out as possible.
- Depending on the shape and position of the hematoma, you may need to insert the needle into different areas to get more of the blood out.
- Clean up the ear with water and alcohol. Apply a thin layer of antibacterial ointment wherever the needle was inserted.
- Cover with a thin layer of gauze or paper towel to soak up excess blood.
- Throw away the syringe in a sharps box or wrap it up in a way that it won't accidentally poke through a trash bag and jab someone.
After you’ve drained the hematoma, apply compression to the affected area immediately. The skin has separated from the cartilage and until the blood has had time to thicken up with new, fibrous, connective cartilage, it's highly susceptible to becoming engorged again.
Clean your Earies with an alcohol wipe and place the magnetic strap over your ear, with the magnets on either side of the hematoma. It should apply just enough pressure to not fall off from normal activity, but not so much that it's painful. If Earies are compressing too much and feel painful, add a little gauze padding between the ear and the magnets to reduce the magnetic force. Wear Earies for 2-3 days, or until swelling has subsided. During this time it's important to periodically remove the magnets to ensure blood flow isn't completely cut off.
After applying compression, avoid any strenuous activity if possible. Extra blood flow from exercise can cause the hematoma to refill and undo the draining, especially if you're not wearing Earies. Think of it as an internal scab—the more you disturb it, the longer it’ll take to heal.
Keep your Earies in the freezer when they're not in use. Whenever your ear gets inflamed, put them on for some cooling relief.
- BJJ forum post on treating cauliflower ear with magnets (2009)
- Use of magnets as a treatment for keloids (2011)
- Use of silicone-covered magnets as a treatment for keloids (2012)
- Study of magnetic strength dropping as a function of distance (2017) — In other words, if you already have a thick cauliflower ear from past injury, magnets won't be as effective and you may need to consider other compression methods