How To Take Care of your Cauliflower Ear

What Is Cauliflower Ear?

The term “Cauliflower Ear” describes a common injury to the ear that is sustained normally through wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Rugby and other sports where there can be potentially large or sustained impacts on the ears. It usually affects the part of the ear that is visible and leaves behind scarred tissue that can permanently deform a person’s ear. It’s very common in MMA and If you look closely at some of your favorite MMA fighters, you will notice some of their ears look like a dog’s chew toy.

Jose Aldo scarred face and earIn the picture adjacent to this section, you can see Jose Aldo’s ear where he has scarred tissue as a result of cauliflower ear. This is what it looks like after it has healed and hardened. You can limit the deformity that is left behind by taking proper care of the injury while it is still fresh.

Most MMA athletes have had some varying degree of trauma to their ears from training that has resulted in cauliflower ear. It happens to almost every person who decides to stick with wrestling and BJJ for a long period of time. You can mitigate the effects of cauliflower ear if you know how to take care of it, I’ve personally had 2 bouts with it. My first was easy to take care of and left me with almost no visible traces. My second bout with it, however, has lingered for a while and will undoubtedly change the appearance of my ear. Here’s what mine looked like before I drained it:

Clotted cauliflower ear

The base of my ear canal is inflamed and clotted. This happened as a result of getting my ear folded over itself during a grappling exchange. You can see the slight traces of my first bout with cauliflower in the smooth edges of the top part of my ear.

Taking Care of Your Cauliflower Ear

First, let’s talk about what is happening in the ear. Your ear is made up of mostly cartilage. That cartilage attaches to a dense irregular connective tissue that’s known as the perichondrium. When you take an impact to the ear, a blood clot forms under the perichondrium and separates it from the cartilage. It’s a blood bubble that forms where you impacted your ear. The perichondrium is what supplies nutrients to the cartilage of your outer ear, when that supply is cut off, the cartilage begins to die. When it dies completely, it will form a hardened fibrous tissue that can only be removed later with cosmetic surgery. This is what you see in Jose Aldo’s ear above. You want to make sure you take care of it before it hardens to mitigate the resulting tissue deformity.

The first thing you need to do is make sure it’s actually cauliflower and not just a little swelling. If you feel around on it, it should feel like a tiny water balloon under your skin. Massage it and move the blood around periodically until you are able to drain it, this keeps the tissue from hardening. You will need alcohol or some other disinfectant, some gauze pads, a syringe, and a form of compression (discussed later).

Your first hurdle in this process will likely be acquiring a syringe. This can be difficult depending on what state or city that you are in. Typically, pharmacists will not sell you a syringe without a prescription out of fear you are using it to do hard drugs. MMA fighters normally have bruises on their faces (especially after a training session that resulted in cauliflower ear) and that coupled with a big blood bubble on your ear is usually enough for a Pharmacist to give you the side eye and send you packing. If this is the case, look for a friend who is a nurse or an EMT, they can frequently be found in MMA gyms if you look hard enough.

If you can’t find a friend who is an EMT, put some glasses on, wear a shirt with sleeves, and appear respectable. When you walk up to the consultation at the CVS, ask them if they know what cauliflower ear is. If they do, you might be in luck, tell em’ you’re a wrestler/grappler/UFC fighter and explain to them that you need a syringe to drain your ear by showing them your big ole’ blood bubble. If they wrestled in high school or know at least a little of what you are talking about they will likely sell you a few syringes seeing that you are clearly not a hard drug user. Its worked for me several times in Florida. If it doesn’t work, bring your mom with you, no one does heroine with their mom. If that doesn’t work either, get health insurance and have a professional drain your ear for you. Buy/acquire at least 5 syringes if you can, you will likely have to drain your ear multiple times if its bad enough.

Now, you are ready to get rid of this monstrosity on your ear. Make sure to sanitize everything first, the syringe should come out of a sterile package, then wipe down your ear and surrounding areas with alcohol and make sure your hands are properly disinfected as well. Feel around on your blood bubble for where it feels the most like a water balloon, that’s where you will want to insert the needle. Press the needle into your blood bubble and push slowly and gradually. You will feel some pressure and some pain and then the needle will visibly sink into the blood clot, that’s how you know you’re in. This might take a few tries, that’s OK. Once the needle sinks, you’ll know it. Then start to draw the plunger out pulling out all that blood and puss with it. You will actually see the blood bubble deflate before your eyes. Be patient here and pull that plunger out slowly. If you have a good size blood clot you will likely fill the syringe’s capacity, however, it’s rare that you will need more than 1 syringe for 1 instance of draining an ear. This is what my ear looked like after draining it:

Drained cauliflower ear

Now that you’ve pulled out the blood and your ear looks relatively normal again, clean everything again and breathe a sigh of relief. You’re basically done. The next step is to apply compression to the affected area. If you don’t compress the ear immediately and for the next 72 hours, the blood bubble will fill back up again and you will need to repeat this draining procedure. If you can’t take some time off the mats to let your ear heal completely because of impending competition, prepare to be draining your ear pretty regularly until you can.

The most effective compression method that I have used is with magnets. You can get magnets that are specifically made for this purpose at caulicure.com, or you can buy earth magnets at home depot that will do the same thing. These are powerful magnets that you will want to keep on the site of the cauliflower until the cartilage has had enough time to heal and reattach to the perichondrium. Some people use binder clips as well but I find those are too painful for me to use and still expect to sleep at night. After draining, your ear will be tender, be sure to keep it clean and dry while compressing it. If you perform this correctly each time you have trauma to your ear, you can get away without having ears that look like a dog’s chew toy after years of training. Here’s how I applied the magnets:

Magnet application to drained cauliflower ear

**This is intended to inform and entertain only. We are not medical professionals and highly recommend that you see a licensed physician for cauliflower ear whenever possible.