Cauliflower ear is a common problem in full-contact sports such as wrestling, boxing, and martial arts. This condition arises when the outer ear suffers hard or repeated blows that cause a big blood clot to form under the skin or when the skin around the cartilage somehow gets torn off. After blood flow to the cartilage is disrupted in these ways, the ear shrivels up into the telltale cauliflower look. Once the damage progresses that far, it is likely to be permanent.

Some “tough guys” refuse to wear headgear during practice or matches and claim that getting cauliflower ear is some sort of badge of honor proving how manly they are. But this is pure nonsense. Cauliflower ear is an ugly, painful condition, and certainly not something you want to deal with for the rest of your life. Here’s how you can avoid it while wrestling.

  • Wear protective headgear. This is a no-brainer, and is mandatory in all high school and college matches in the U.S. It should also be a requirement in practices too. By making it a habit to strap on your headgear before you step on the mat, you’ll significantly increase your chances of avoiding cauliflower ear.
  • See a doctor after getting hit in the ear. If your headgear somehow comes off during a match and you get struck in the ear before the ref blows the whistle, see a doctor immediately. The doctor can drain the blood to help prevent a clot from forming, and then tightly bandage the area to keep the skin and cartilage intact. Stitches and antibiotics might also be necessary in severe cases.
  • Stay off the mat for a while. After getting treatment from a doctor, it’s important to take a break from wrestling in order to give your ear sufficient time to heal. This can be hard to do, especially if you’re having a great season, but it’s absolutely necessary in order to prevent cauliflower ear from forming.

Don’t let anyone tell you that this sort of permanent disfigurement is something to strive for or be proud of. There are other ways to prove your manhood on the wrestling mat, so just do the right thing and wear your headgear every time you go out there.