Brief: This page discusses a type of piercing lump that can form on cartilage. It is quite an uncommon bump but is, unfortunately, not easily repaired or removed.
TL;DR – Too much information? For a shorter version try our quick reference guide here.
This is a very rare type of bump seen on cartilage like the upper ear and is most closely associated with piercing cartilage with a gun. This is something not even recommended by the gun manufacturers. To find out more about the risks associated with piercing guns try our guide to them.
Damaged cartilage can look like soft dips, folds or tears on the firm rubbery tissue associated with places like nostrils and upper ears. They also commonly appear as blister-like bumps or large round lumps which deform the natural layout of tissue.
The bumps, lumps and tears associated with cartilage damage are created by blunt force trauma or if an infection in the outer skin or tissue of the ear (known as Perichondritis) spreads deeper and becomes chondritis – an infection of the cartilage itself which can eat away at the cartilage’s structure.
Because cartilage does not have its own blood supply, and the cells that make up the structure of the cartilage live in their own “corridor,” once cartilage is damaged it is very difficult for it to heal or to return to its original look.
This is because the structure cells cannot move from their corridor inside the cartilage into damaged areas to put them right. The healing cells that help to heal tissue and fight off infection are also very slow at reaching the area because the cartilage gets its blood and nutrients from the surrounding tissue via diffusion, rather than directly.
This means that if the cartilage is badly damaged it cannot be put right by your body. Cauliflower ear (Auricular hematoma) is a famous form of damage that ear piercings can be subject to where trauma causes fluid to fill the space between the cartilage and the layer of nutrients which keeps it alive. This causes a layer of cartilage in the ear to die and make large parts of the ear look lumpy and misshapen – like the head of a cauliflower.
The best way to avoid such damage is to cause as little trauma to your cartilage as possible, since it cannot bounce back the way other skin does! Most importantly, in terms of piercing, this means never getting an upper or inner ear or nose piercing done with a gun.
Piercing guns do not use something sharp to make the hole and then fill it in with jewellery. Instead they fire a blunt earring through your ear, like a bullet. This causes a lot of trauma because rather than being cut into the tissue is torn through or ‘shattered’, creating a jagged hole and a lot more swelling and bruising. This sort of trauma is the same as being hit in the head, like a boxer, so it may cause tears or even cauliflower ear which is quite famous in boxers.
In addition to this the jewellery used in the gun easily collects dead skin and bacteria giving infection a good place to develop as the jewellery cannot be cleaned properly without removal. The guns themselves are also not sterile so the risk of infection is significantly increased. For more information about the possible dangers of piercing guns try reading our piercing gun guide.
Another form of prevention is to be careful what you do when you have been pierced. If you do contact sports you are at a higher risk of cartilage damage and a piercing can facilitate this by being easy to catch. During healing it’s advised to try and avoid knocking the piercing anyway so contact sports should ideally be avoided during that time. However even healed piercings can be caught so always remove or cover and protect your jewellery before training.
The only treatment available for cosmetic cartilage damage is re-constructive plastic surgery.
If cauliflower ear is caught quickly enough some of the disfiguration can be avoided by immediately having the ear drained with a syringe. This is because it is the fluid coming between the layers of cartilage that kills the tissue so if there is less fluid, less damage will occur.
If you would like more information about cartilage damage we recommend the following articles.
- The medicine net page on cauliflower ears explains the medical site of physical cartilage damage
- The article on perichondritis by the Medline plus is an encyclopaedia entry about the infection likely to cause cartilage damage.
- This Facial Surgery article written by Theda C. Kontis, MD and Ira D. Papel, MD in the Journal of American Medical Association May 2003, Vol 5, No. 3. It is entitled ‘Reconstruction of Congenital and Acquired Auricular Scaphal Deficiencies’ and has discusses the procedures used to reconstruct damaged ear cartilage – including before and after photos of such surgeries.
- Our guide on the risks of piercings done with piercing guns discusses in depth the problems they can cause and why we consider them to be an inferior tool.