Why do rugby players get Cauliflower ears?

Rugby players may not be the most attractive sports people in the world. One of the things that is very noticeable about a rugby player is the cauliflower ears. So how do they get these?

Why do rugby players get Cauliflower ears? Rugby players develop Cauliflower ears through blows to the head, which cause either a blood clot or a collection of fluid in the ear. This makes them look constantly swollen.

Cauliflower ears are common on a lot of rugby players. You will most often see them appear on the ears of front row players and almost all forwards have Cauliflower ears. You do see some backs with Cauliflower ears, but it tends to mainly be the forwards.

They are caused by blunt trauma to the ear which leads to swelling. With blood swelling in the ear, the healing process usually means that blood will form into a clot. In some cases, fluids build up in the ear which is what causes cauliflower ears to form. In rugby, there is a lot of blunt trauma which causes cauliflower ears to form.

The ears rubbing against heads in the scrum usually causes some trauma to the ear which can eventually lead to a Cauliflower ear form. As blunt trauma is the cause, any hit to the head in a rugby game can lead to Cauliflower ears to form, but they are mainly caused by ears rubbing against the rest of the body in the scrum.

Rucks can also be a cause of Cauliflower ears because you can rub ears against other people in the rucks. Blunt trauma as the cause of these injuries is also why you will quite often see people in combat sports with Cauliflower Ears, caused by the blunt trauma of kicks and punches.

Are Cauliflower ears permanent in rugby players?

One of the things that I’m sure worries a lot of people is whether Cauliflower ears will be permanent if they play rugby. It is a difficult issue for rugby players.

Cauliflower ears are not permanent, however they are if they are left untreated. Cauliflower ears are either blood clots in the ear or a build-up of fluid caused by blunt trauma. In Rugby there is a lot of blunt trauma which causes Cauliflower ears to form. However, they are not necessarily permanent.

You can get the fluid that has built up drained from your ear which will usually help to cure the issue. However, this method is not quick enough, the Cauliflower ears can become permanent through the injury hardening. This is why quite a few retired rugby players still have Cauliflower ears years after retiring.

These players will have likely not had their injury drained and so it has now become permanent. But with proper treatment, Cauliflower ears don’t have to be permanent.

How do you prevent cauliflower ears in rugby?

The prevention of Cauliflower ears has led to the introduction of a new device aimed at player safety.

Scrum caps are thought to help prevent Cauliflower ears for rugby players. This is because they remove some of the blunt trauma to the ear which rugby players face in games. They are called scrum caps because they are most worn by players in the scrum.

By having a protective cap on, rugby players’ ears do not rub and hit against other players, and this reduces the trauma the ear goes through. By reducing the blunt trauma to the ear, you can also reduce the likelihood of Cauliflower ears forming. It is why you also sometimes see players who do not play in the scrum wearing a scrum cap.

Headgear is common in other sports which have Cauliflower ears, so their introduction to rugby is no surprise. 

Do Scrum caps prevent cauliflower ears?

It is generally believed in rugby that scrum caps prevent Cauliflower ears. Scrum caps are protective headwear, with some padding in them to help protect the head and specifically the ear. The padding and protection mean there is less trauma on the ear.

By having less trauma on the ear, it is much less likely that Cauliflower ears will form. You can see that Scrum caps prevent cauliflower ears by looking at how many rugby players are starting to use scrum caps for that exact reason.

How long does it take to harden cauliflower ear?

While cauliflower ears are not permanent if treated pretty quickly, they can become permanent if not treated. They become permanent when the fluid or blood clot causing the cauliflower ear hardens.

Cauliflower ears usually harden anywhere between 5-10 days after the fluid has filled the ear. Usually after 10 days the Cauliflower ear has completely hardened, and it is much more likely that this will now be permanent. The ear hardening is why treatment usually needs to happen in the first week, as it makes it much more difficult to treat once the ear has hardened.

There is more research that is needed in this, as sometimes the exact time when the ear fully hardens varies massively.

Does Cauliflower ear damage hearing?

Cauliflower ears may look like they only affect the outside of the ear and so have no affect on the person’s hearing. However, this is not the case.

Cauliflower ear damage can be known to damage hearing. Previous studies have found that sportspeople who develop cauliflower ears are much more likely to experience hearing loss than sportspeople without Cauliflower ears. This is not surprising when you think about the effect of the injury.

Permanent swelling of the outer ear means it is more difficult for sound to get into your ear. This will likely mean that hearing will be damaged. Cauliflower ears are often permanent if they are not treated immediately and so therefore, this damage to the hearing could also be permanent if the cauliflower ear is not treated.

The main study that looked at hearing damage was based on wrestlers and so more research is needed to find out whether other sports like rugby have the same effect on hearing.

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