Why do rugby players have cauliflower ears?

If you have ever watched a Rugby game before, you will quickly notice that many players tend to have swollen ears. These are known as cauliflower ears, but what causes them? 

Why do rugby players have cauliflower ears? Cauliflower ears are caused by blunt trauma to the ear, leading to swelling that is permanent. This can be lots of hits to the ear over a period of time, or less frequent big hits to the ear. Noticeably caused in Rugby by the extreme physical nature of the game. So called, due to their similarity to the popular vegetable, the cauliflower.

Cauliflower ears are one of the things that new fans tend to notice pretty quickly when anybody starts to watch rugby and you can see why. It is incredibly rare that you see ears like that every day and yet the condition is incredibly common in rugby. 

The reason why it is incredibly common in rugby is that the cause of cauliflower ears is blunt trauma to the ear, which happens quite a lot. There are so many different ways that you can get trauma to the ear during a rugby game so it is hardly surprising to see so many rugby players with the condition. 

When a player gets blunt trauma to the ear, this can cause internal bleeding within the ear. This can lead to blood clots beginning to form in the outer ear. These blood clots are visible because of how thin the ear is and it looks as though the ear is constantly swollen. 

Rugby has a multitude of different ways that players can get cauliflower ears. You will most commonly see players from the front row have cauliflower ears. This is because the front row tends to see the most ear injuries happening in the scrum. With all of the rubbing and bending of the ear that happens in the scrum, the front row is the most common in the front row. 

If you look closely, you may notice that there are other sports where people have cauliflower ears. Professionals who compete in contact sports are very likely to have cauliflower ears as they will have had repeated blunt traumas to the ear. The injury is not as uncommon as you may think. 

What is the real name of Cauliflower Ears? 

The medical name for the condition is Auricular Hematoma. Auricular Hematoma is a collection of blood that builds up underneath the perichondrium of the ear and is typically caused by trauma. If this goes untreated, it can lead to Auricular deformity which is also known as Cauliflower Ear. 

Essentially, the condition is where the anterior auricle, the outer ear, swells and reddens as a result of blood building up in the cartilage and tissue around the outer ear. This blood build-up is caused by trauma and it is why we see rugby players suffering from this deformity. 

The cartilage of the ear itself does not have any blood flow to it. But when a rugby player experiences blunt trauma to the ear in a tackle or scrum, the cartilage, skin and connective tissue can get bundled up and in some severe cases, the blood vessels in the ear can burst which causes internal bleeding in the ear. 

The bleeding in the ear can then start to block any blood flow to the outer ear and If there is no blood going to it, the cartilage can begin to die. As it begins to die, it will also harden and turn into scar tissue. As the cartilage thickens, the new cartilage will begin to regenerate. 

It is this regeneration that causes cauliflower ears to form. With new cartilage trying to form alongside the scar tissue, the ear will swell and it looks very uneven. This is because the cartilage cannot grow easily around the scar tissue and it creates the uneven swelling that we know as Cauliflower Ears. 

How can you treat Cauliflower Ears? 

Once Cauliflower Ears have fully developed, it is very difficult to do anything about it. This is because the cartilage has already regrown over the old dead cartilage and the scar tissue has already formed. It is why you see a lot of retired rugby players who still have cauliflower ears, as there is nothing they can do once this has formed. 

But Auricular Hematoma can be prevented if the build-up of blood is identified. Any sort of blunt trauma causes increased blood flow to the ear and that can eventually lead to a build-up of blood or a blood clot. 

To prevent cauliflower ears, this needs to be identified early on. If it is identified early on, there are things doctors can do about it. They will make a small incision in the ear and drain any build-up blood or remove the blood clot to prevent further damage to the ear. In some cases, a scalpel may be needed if the build-up is bigger than two centimetres.

After the ear has been drained, there are some cases where doctors can repair the connective tissue that has been damaged in the trauma. So doctors can do something to prevent the swelling, but only in the early stages of the condition. 

How can you prevent Cauliflower Ears? 

Rugby players are often already trying to prevent cauliflower ears during the game, you just have not noticed it yet. Usually, rugby players will either wear a scrum cap or tape around their heads to prevent the rubbing and the tearing that causes blood build-up. 

 Scrum caps are one of the newer inventions in the game of rugby and you will often see players in the forwards wearing them, with even some backs wearing the cap. The cap was designed to prevent lacerations, cuts or tears to the head or ear. By preventing some of the trauma that can happen to the ear, they also prevent cauliflower ears. 

It is why you most commonly see front-row players wearing scrum caps, as they reduce the effects of the scrum on players’ ears. If you are slightly more keen-eyed, you may also notice some players either wearing tape around their heads or on the top of the ear. While it may not always be the primary aim, doing this can also help to prevent cauliflower ears. 

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