You see them most often on wrestlers, boxers, and mixed martial artists (and sometimes rugby players) – those swollen, puffy-looking ears that look like cauliflowers (a variety of cabbage). Hence the name: cauliflower ear.

Also known as perichondrial hematoma, the cauliflower ear is a common injury among athletes engaged in combat sports, but it can happen to anyone who suffers a blow to the ear. It usually affects the outer ear causing blood or fluid to collect under the perichondrium causing the ear to become swollen and deformed and resembling a cauliflower in appearance. Sometimes the injury occurs inside the ear, too, causing swelling in the ear canal and affecting the ability to hear.

I personally experienced seven cauliflower ears during my amateur wrestling career and had each of them treated by a doctor. Sometimes he opened the affected area with a scalpel and squeezed out the blood, and sometimes he inserted a syringe directly into the swollen tissue and drained it. The worst – at least psychologically – was when the injury was to my inner ear and he had to stick the syringe directly into my ear canal. It didn’t hurt any more than the other treatments, but the THOUGHT of that long needle intruding into my ear was a little disconcerting at the time.

Cauliflower ears are painful and ugly and, left untreated, a cauliflower ear can become permanently deformed as the blood hardens, and often the only corrective procedure is plastic surgery. Sometimes the damaged ear actually becomes brittle and can actually break off. Old-time pro wrestling fans may recall the famous match between Walter “Killer” Kowalski and Yukon Eric in the 50s when Yukon Eric’s cauliflower ear went flying across the ring after a blow from Kowalski, thus earning Kowalski the ignominious nickname of “Killer.”

Most cauliflower ears can be prevented by simply wearing protective headgear, but many misguided athletes consider cauliflower ears to be “badges of honor.” They would rather spend the rest of their lives parading around with deformed, calcified ears as some kind of foolish testament to their courage on the mat than have them treated.

Unfortunately it doesn’t take any courage to leave a cauliflower ear untreated – just stupidity.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Evans is a 42-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and internationally recognized fitness consultant.