Cauliflower ear is common among grapplers, especially those training for MMA or other combat sports. The condition causes the ears to swell up and harden to a point where they are similar in texture with cauliflowers-hence why it gets its name!
Symptoms of Cauliflower Ear
You can feel it when you start getting cauliflower ear. It’ll feel a little strange at first, which is the best time to treat it. Over time it will begin to develop into cartilage, and you’ll lose feeling in it. There are some common symptoms of acute cauliflower ear you should look out for:
- Pain in the ear
- Bruising around the ear
- Deformity in the ear’s curvature (for that distinct shape)
As your cauliflower ear gets worse, however, the problems will get more serious:
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Blurred vision
- Facial swelling
- Severe bleeding
- Possible hearing loss in the most severe cases
What Causes Cauliflower Ear?
It starts with trauma to the front of the ear, which causes the separation of the outer layer of the ear from the underlying cartilage. This results in the accumulation of blood in the area of separation between these two layers. This is known in medical terms as an auricular hematoma (auricle is the medical term for the ear, and hematoma is a collection of blood). This is the stage when the ear is puffy, swollen, and often sensitive. If this blood is left untreated, it can lead to new abnormal layers of cartilage forming resulting in cauliflower ear, which is complex and usually pain-free.
It takes about two weeks for the pain and swelling caused by cauliflower ear injury to subside. It would help if you didn’t use your injured ear during this time since contact with any pressure will increase the fluid build-up in your ears. At some point, after these symptoms disappear, you should be able to see how bad the damage is so that a doctor can decide whether or not surgery is required. If surgery isn’t needed, then simply wearing headgear when sparring will prevent further problems in most cases.
What Activities Can Cause Cauliflower Ear?
Any activity resulting in trauma to the ear, most commonly a shearing force, can lead to auricular hematoma and, therefore, cauliflower ear. What activities are most likely to cause a shearing force to the ear? Grappling, for starters! Wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, sambo, catch wrestling, etc., all commonly use holds, pins, and locks that result in trauma and shearing force directly to the ears. For example, cross faces, headlocks, guillotines, triangles, shoulder pressure, and other common moves frequently cause trauma on the ears. Other activities such as boxing, rugby, and other martial arts can also lead to cauliflower ear.
How Do You Prevent Cauliflower Ear?
The easiest method of prevention is headgear. Wrestlers have long worn headgear for this very reason. It’s cheap, and it’s effective. If you have been training without headgear and are at a stage where your ear has recently undergone trauma and blood has pooled but not hardened (usually less than seven days after the trauma), you may be a candidate to have the fluid drained from your ear. A physician should do this, most commonly an Ears, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT). It is usually done in the office under local anesthesia. Once cauliflower ear begins to set in, usually after seven days, a surgical procedure may be required to remove it.
Do All Grapplers Get Cauliflower Ear?
No, not all grapplers get cauliflower ear. Some people seem more susceptible to the condition than others. We’ve been around grappling all our lives and have seen grapplers get cauliflower ear after only a few weeks, and others train for years and never have any symptoms.
How Long Does It Take for Cauliflower Ear to Harden?
It can take 5 to 10 days for a fluid-filled ear to harden. It takes up to 8 weeks for the perichondrium to permanently attach to the cartilage surface.
How to Get Cauliflower Ear Fast?
You’re going to want to hate yourself a little bit. Ask someone to punch, elbow or knee you repeatedly where you want the cauliflower.
Alternatively, allow yourself to get stuck in tight arm triangles and try to escape. Also, try getting into tight makura kesa gatame and try to escape. Wash, rinse, and repeat until the desired size of cauliflower happens.
How To Drain a Cauliflower Ear at Home?
While not recommended, a lot of people still do it. You’ll need:
- a syringe and needle
- alcohol pads
- sterile gauze
How to do it:
- Sterilize your ear with alcohol or iodine.
- Remove the cap from the syringe and locate the hematoma.
- Slowly insert the needle into the affected area toward the bottom of the hematoma. Insert about 2 millimeters and draw back on the plunger to create a vacuum.
- Continue to press the needle further into the hematoma until the syringe begins to fill.
- Continue drawing back on the plunger until the cavity has fully drained
- Apply sterile gauze to the area to stop the bleeding
Is Cauliflower Ear Harmful?
Cauliflower ear may impact your hearing to a degree. Some medical sites have indicated that cauliflower ear may also make you more prone to ear infections. Mostly, however, the condition is cosmetic. And in the grappling world, the cauliflower ear is often seen as a badge of honor.