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Ear puffs?

Boxers, wrestlers, and martial artists beware! A few rounds of ear-busting smackdowns can result in this deformity. Known as cauliflower ear, these ears' puffy appearances aren't due to overindulgence on the white-flower vegetable. They're the result of a repeated injury to the outer ear.

How does this veggie-looking condition occur? It has to do with the outer ear's anatomy. The outer ear is nothing more than skin-covered cartilage, a springy tissue. Only a thin membrane sits between the skin and cartilage, feeding the cartilage oxygen-rich blood.

If the ear is exposed to repeated jabs, the impact can tear the membrane from the cartilage. Blood rushes in to fill the space--a condition called a hematoma--causing a bulge. With quick medical care, the injury can be treated and deformity prevented. Doctors use a needle or small incision to drain the blood. Then, they clean the wound and bandage it tightly so the membrane can reconnect with the cartilage. Sometimes doctors will prescribe antibiotics to ward off Infection.

Dr. Christopher Linstrom, a New York-based ear, nose, and throat specialist, recently treated in one month two jujitsu fighters with the injury. While his patients chose to treat their ears, that's not always the case. "Both patients told me that other fighters in their gym wear cauliflower ears as a badge of honor," says Linstrom. But ignoring cauliflower ear has dangerous risks.

In the days following the injury, blood in the hematoma thickens, making it harder--and more painful--to drain. The ear is at risk of infections, which could result in doctors having to remove parts of the outer ear. Eventually, the nutrient-starved cartilage shrivels up and dies. The ear appears pale and crumpled, hence the name cauliflower ear. At that stage, cauliflower ear is permanent and plastic surgery is the only way to reconstruct the outer ear. "And it will never look like [it did originally]," warns Linstrom.


Always leave treatment up to an experienced clinician, Linstrom advises. Allowing an untrained coach or teammate to drain the ear increases the chances of a dangerous infection.

But as doctors often say, prevention is the best medicine. "The best thing to do is wear head gear," says Linstrom.
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Title Annotation:GROSS OUT; cauliflower ears
Author:Carney, Elizabeth
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 10, 2008
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