To some jiujiteiros having “cauliflower ear,” or in more scientific terms, a perichondrial hematoma, can be a badge of honor, but to others it can be their worst nightmare. Here are a few tips to help you avoid “cauliflower ear,” and what to do in the case you have one.
What is “Cauliflower Ear?”
The mangled cartilage that makes your earlobe resemble a cauliflower occurs with repeated trauma or inflammation and is caused when the blood supply to the skin is disrupted and forms a large pocket or hematoma. “As the injury to the ear heals it can shrivel up and fold in on itself and appear pale, giving it a cauliflower-like appearance, hence the term cauliflower ear.” says, John P. Cunha, a doctor of osteopathic medicine.
There are mainly two ways to prevent cauliflower ear. The first one is to duck, and not allow your ears to be messed with. But it’s hard to avoid if you are doing Jiu-Jitsu. Juijiteiros usually damage their ears practicing abrasive takedowns, in which one player ends up slamming their ear against the mat over and over again. If you know there’s something you’re doing that’s bothering your ears, then just stop doing it. If every time you’re in side control, and someone’s damaging your ear, then that’s a different story. If you know you’re going to be in side control, maybe speaking to your teammate beforehand could save you a trip to the doctor, and help keep your ears intact. However, if you constantly play half guard and your ear is continuously getting crushed, then move on to something like butterfly guard, or focus on your top game.
Another not so fashionable option, is head gear. The only downside of head gear is that it will be a little uncomfortable at first, which is why you need a few training sessions to get used to it. Some BJJ practitioners wear a headpiece and some wear a mouthpiece. It all comes down to personal preference. You can always put on the head gear when you know you’re going to be practicing takedowns, or get caught in positions that will be abrasive to your ears. This certainly doesn’t have to be an everyday BJJ essential, if you don’t want it to be.
I asked my coach in New York how he could be a four-stripe brown belt, and yet still had perfect ears. He brought up two interesting points: One, having hair could prevent a hematoma because it masks your ears, and protects them from being completely exposed. And, people with softer, more pliable ears are less likely to get a hematoma because their ears are flexible, unlike someone with stiff, rougher ears, which are more prone to breakage.
The important thing is to pay attention to your ears! If they feel hot, sore, or start to become bruised, consult a doctor immediately. Your ear eventually fills with fluid, and the treatment for that is to get it drained. That fluid will eventually starve the ear cartilage, and become a hard substance underneath your ear. Some people drain their ears themselves, although if you don’t know what you’re doing, I definitely don’t recommend it. This is best done by a professional, to avoid infection and allow proper healing.
“Once that fresh blood supply is cut off, your ear cartilage can’t get the fresh nutrients that it needs,” says nurse Carrie Madormo. “This leads to infection and death of the tissue. Once that happens, new fibrous tissue can form around the area, creating a cauliflower texture on your ear.”
After getting the fluid drained, the cartilage and the skin aren’t going to bond very well unless they are properly bandaged in order to promote optimum merging. During this whole process, it’s important to take a break from the game, and allow your ears to heal properly before hitting the mats again.
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