When the cartilage of the ear is injured by any sort of trauma from training, the blood supply from the skin is disturbed. This forms pools of blood called a hematoma. As the ear heals it can shrivel up from lack of blood supply and appear pale giving it the cauliflower-like appearance.
Cauliflower ear is an irreversible condition that occurs in BJJ from training, hard roll sessions and competitions. This injury separates the cartilage from the overlying perichondrium that supplies nutrients, causing it to die. This causes the outer ear to become permanently swollen and deformed.
In order to get cauliflower ears you would need to sustain blunt trauma or another type of shearing injury from training. Cauliflower can be caused in MMA and Boxing from repeated hits to the ear that leads to hematomas. Cauliflower ear can also occur when the skin is pulled away from cartilage, the semi-rigid tissue that gives the ear its shape.
This type of injury frequently occurs when you’re caught in a deep triangle choke and fight to get out. The friction from trying to escape will cause the ear to separate from the cartilage and cause bruising. Often considered a ‘badge of honor’ among grapplers, cauliflower ear does pose its medical risks and training impediments.
When you get cauliflower ear, you run the potential risk of having hearing loss. There was a study recently published in 2015 that found wrestlers who didn't wear headgear reported hearing loss significantly higher than those who wore headgear.
This study sought to evaluate and compare the prevalence of hearing loss among wrestlers with and without cauliflower ears by employing hearing tests. The study included subjects randomly selected from 14 wrestling clubs in Tehran.
The group consisted of:
All the subjects were interviewed to collect data on demographic factors, medical history and diseases related to hearing loss. They also went through otoscopic and audiologic examinations.
An otoscopic exam involves looking into the ear with an instrument that shines a light to inspect the inner ear. Audiologic exams consist of a series of diagnostic procedures used to determine the type, degree and configuration of hearing loss.
The results of this test showed that the prevalence of hearing loss among cauliflower ears was higher than this rate among non-cauliflower ears. Also, the percentage of positive history of ear infections among cauliflower ears was two times higher than wrestlers with non-cauliflower ears. Read more about this study.
Unfortunately, once your cauliflower ear has hardened the only way to fix it is with cosmetic surgery. This operation is typically quite expensive and is performed by a specialist. It only takes cauliflower a little over a week to solidify. If cosmetic surgery doesn't sound appealing then you will have to drain the cauliflower ear once it begins to swell.
It's important to note the ear doesn't have much blood flow so the risk of infection is higher. To prevent infection you want to make sure your environment is as sterile and clean as possible.
First, clean your hands and ear. It may be sensitive to touch from the swelling but it's important to clean the area around the ear thoroughly. I've personally used rubbing alcohol in the past to sterilize everything and had no problems or infections. However, a quick search for hospital grade disinfectant wipes will yield a lot of modestly price options.
Once the ear is clean you'll want to get your syringe and insert it at an angle into the affected area. Make sure to insert the needle in front of the ear. Pull the plunger of the syringe back gently and you should see blood starting to trickle out. If the flow stops, you can give the syringe another slight pull. Repeat this process until the ear has completely drained. Also, under no circumstances should you reuse the same syringe. If you feel up a syringe with blood then properly dispose of it and get a fresh one.
It's always a good idea to buy several syringes so you are well prepared. You will also want to get a slightly thicker syringe to avoid any bending or flexing in the needle.
The best way to treat cauliflower ear is by being proactive. The best method of prevention is to wear headgear or ear guards. While cauliflower ear attributes feelings of camaraderie we get that some people don’t want it for various reasons. Grappling or wrestling headgear that comfortably slides on will help you to dull the shearing and blunt force trauma to your ears commonly associated with rolling. Grappling headgear helps to shield your ears when you’re trying to escape tricky triangle chokes. The headgear will work to shield your head and ears from being crushed.
We’ve all been there too, that shearing pressure is brutal on the ears and can form a hematoma fairly quickly. So, the best way to fix cauliflower ear is to first prevent it. If you can’t handle draining your cauliflower ear with thick needles, then grab some headgear today.
If left untreated cauliflower ear can cause ringing in your ear, hearing loss, headaches and blurred vision. A recent study found grapplers with cauliflower ear were more likely to experience hearing loss than others without the condition. Cauliflower ear will also increase your risk for ear infections.
It's important to catch the beginning signs of cauliflower ear to protect yourself from other complications down the road. You can prevent it by wearing ear protection during rolling or training and regularly icing your ear.