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By Dr. Pamela Fernandes  |  24 October 2020   

If you head off to martial arts forums online, there is always a question about cauliflower ears. From the newbies who want to take up grappling, to the guys who’ve just had an injury and even the pros who’re want to impress a significant other!

There are lots of questions about dealing with cauliflower ears. There are even so-forums asking if girls would date a guy with cauliflower ears. Potential love interests, please feel free to chime in here…

WTH Are Cauliflower Ears?

The ears are made of cartilage. When the ears are injured during a fight or due to a direct blow the cartilage separates from the skin. It fills with blood. This blood pools and has no way of escaping or healing. It’s also known as an auricular hematoma.

Cauliflower Ear Auricular Hematoma  | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Over time the blood calcifies and solidifies into the grotesque cauliflower ears. It’s a common sight in rugby, UFC and wrestling, judo and jiujitsu, for example Alexander Gustafsson, BJ Penn, and Frankie Edgar. MMA artists are no strangers to these hematomas. If you ever wondered why they all had deformed ears; now, you know why.

How to Get Rid of Cauliflower Ears?

The first step is to treat them as they happen. As soon as you have a swelling in the ear, get it drained by a trained medical professional immediately. This will ensure that no blood remains behind. A small incision without anesthesia will ensure that the blood drains, allowing the ear to heal. This is the best measure when it comes to auricular hematomas.

Roll Like a Beast and Still Prevent Cauliflower Ears: Possible?

Yes, you can prevent cauliflower ears by learning to duck. Fast! This is especially true for those involved in takedowns. In side control on the mat, wear a butterfly guard to prevent any hematoma from forming. Also, the other option is to wear a headgear also known as “scrum cap.” Or a headpiece with a mouthpiece.

These may feel uncomfortable at first but will feel like second skin later as your ears make repeated contact with the mat. You can also try a specialty ear splint that compresses the ear and prevents it from filling and turning into cauliflower ears.

Pay attention to how your ears feel after every bout or training session. 

If your ear feels hot, swollen, and sore, then you should see a doctor immediately and try and drain any fluid that is accumulating there.

Once drained, doctors compress the ear to ensure it does not refill again and this is important to prevent a recurrence. They can use a variety of things to achieve this: cotton bolsters, dental silicone, silicone rubber splints, or even auricular stents.

Badge or No Badge?

Well, at some point you may want to get rid of cauliflower ears and surgery might be your best bet. However, plastic surgeons do not recommend it if you’re going to continue training in combat arts without headgear.

The procedure involves removing the damaged fibrous cartilage and replacing it with costal cartilage from your ribs if needed. However, it's important to consider that your ears will not return to their original contours and size. Many athletes train in martial arts for life and wear their cauliflower ears with pride like a badge of honor.

There are risks to continuing to train with cauliflower ears. Ask Leslie Smith, the no. 3 ranked UFC fighter whose cauliflower ear exploded when her opponent Jessica Eye landed a right hand to the side of her head. Her ear basically tore in half and there’s even a video of it. She won the fight but no one remembers it. They all remember her as the fighter with the exploding ear.

Leslie’s cauliflower ears were a longstanding problem as she started training since she was 26. Over the years she didn’t even notice when she started developing them. She was training and grappling so much. Leslie was draining her every month, draining almost three syringes of fluid every day. That’s a lot! Now she vows to wear protective headgear for life.

Also, cauliflower ears can affect your auditory canal and you’re hearing, if it worsens. The primary injury could develop into an abscess if it isn’t treated medically. These are risks associated with it.

Hot or Not?

Leslie Smith admits there’s a coolness factor to her cauliflower ears but it doesn’t scream hot and sexy. The forums will give you all the feedback you’re looking for. Cauliflower ears do have a good prognosis if treated immediately and with minimal effects. As far as aesthetics are considered, prevention is key. How you do it, is up to you!

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About the author

Dr. Pamela Q. Fernandes is an author, doctor and medical writer. Born and raised in Kuwait, she graduated from Angeles University College of Medicine, Philippines in 2007. Soon after that, she started her career as a medical writer and physician. Pamela is an advocate of preventive health, rural medicine, women’s health and tele-medicine having been active in these roles for the majority of her decade long career in medicine. She an Aikido practitioner. You can find out more about her at https://www.pamelaqfernandes.com.

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