The Top 5 Cauliflower Ear Treatments of 2021

Grappling and cauliflower ears go together like peas and carrots. The gnarled, deformed ears that many professional grapplers and MMA fighters sport are a result of blows and injuries to the ear. And while some may view cauliflower ear as some sort of badge of honor, many others view it for exactly what it is: an irreversible deformity.

But there’s good news for those grapplers looking to keep their ears in tact. Treatments are available to reverse the course of cauliflower ear before it becomes permanent. Below we’ve listed those treatments, as well as everything you need to know about cauliflower ear, how to avoid it, and the ramifications of letting cauliflower ear go un-checked.

What is cauliflower ear and what causes it?

According to medicinenet.com, cauliflower ear is caused when “the ear is struck and a blood clot develops under the skin, or the skin is sheared from the cartilage, the connection of the skin to the cartilage is disrupted…”

Essentially, when the ear receives blunt force trauma or repeated traumas, the skin of the ear is separated from the cartilage. The pocket created by the separation fills with blood, giving the ear a bulbous, almost balloon-like look while the cauliflower ear is fresh. But because the cartilage’s only source for fresh blood and nutrients is the skin, it eventually dies, forming a shriveled outer ear that is deformed and hard to the touch.

Although boxers and MMA fighters often have cauliflower ear, no striking is needed to cause cauliflower ear; it is perhaps more prevalent among grapplers. Whether it be from a hard round of wrestling in the collar tie on the feet or squeezing your head out of a tight guillotine choke, grapplers and jiu-jitsu players are constantly susceptible to cauliflower ear.

How to avoid cauliflower ear

The best way to avoid cauliflower ear is to simply not grapple, but we all know that’s out of the question. The next best option would be to wear headgear during sparring (or even hard drilling sessions, if you’re particularly concerned). Like hard ear muffs, headgear is essentially a set of little helmets for your ears, covering them completely so they aren’t impacted. If you’re able to wear headgear during 100 percent of your sparring, you will almost certainly avoid any cauliflower.

However, there are some serious limitations to headgear. First, most jiu-jitsu competitions, including the IBJJF, do not permit competitors to wear headgear; the hard plastic shells and rigid edges could cause injury. Second, most grapplers find wearing headgear to be flat-out annoying. Ill-fitting headgear will slide around the head, causing discomfort or interruptions during sparring. Moreover, because you’re adding bulk to your head, headgear can make it much more difficult to pull your head out of chokes and head locks.

Finally, the key to avoiding permanent cauliflower ear is immediate treatment. And by “immediate,” we mean hours, not days. The moment you feel pain, softness, and fluid building up in your ear, you must take fast action either by draining it at home, using one of the treatments listed below, or (most likely) a combination of both.

We cannot stress this enough: in order to avoid permanent cauliflower ear you must act quickly. Left untreated, the cartilage will die, the ear will harden, and the damage will be irreversible, short of plastic surgery.

The ramifications of cauliflower ear

Cauliflower ear is more than just a cosmetic deformity; it can bring with it legitimate health consequences. First and foremost, when the cauliflower ear is fresh (not hardened), the ear hurts. A fresh cauliflower ear is essentially a bulbous bruise, so sleeping on that ear is out of the question.

Secondly, cauliflower ear can lead to hearing loss. According to a study published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, wrestlers with cauliflower ear are significantly more likely to experience hearing loss than wrestlers without cauliflower ear.

Third, more severe cases of cauliflower ear can lead to ringing in the ear, headache, or blurred vision. The build-up of fluid in one ear literally causes an imbalance in the head, upsetting the natural equilibrium. For this reason, someone with fresh cauliflower ear might feel dizzy and experience headaches as his or her body adjusts to the change in weight distribution.

Finally, on a more practical level, cauliflower ear often makes wearing typical earbuds and headphones impossible. Ear buds are designed to fit snugly into a regular ear, but cauliflower ear often dramatically changes the shape of the ear, making regular ear buds out of the question.

How do cauliflower ear treatments work?

There are a variety of ways to treat cauliflower ear, but they all approach the problem in essentially the same way: prevent the build-up of fluid in the ear.

It’s important to note that none of the treatments below will be effective at removing the build-up of fluid; if your cauliflower ear is fresh, you must first drain it of fluid. We recommend asking a medical professional to do this, and the process is simple. After cleaning and sterilizing the ear, a syringe is used to draw blood and fluid from the swollen ear, briefly returning the ear to normal. Once the ear has been drained, you can used one of the treatments below to prevent the continued build-up of fluid, allowing your ear to eventually return to its normal shape.

Some treatments below are more preventative in nature, meaning they can be used at the earliest signs of cauliflower ear, even before there has been much build-up of fluid. For these treatments, apply them after a hard training session or whenever your ears start feeling sensitive or bruised. These treatments are designed to prevent cauliflower ear from ever getting out of hand.

Our top five cauliflower ear treatments

Best Overall: Caulicure Cauliflower Ear Treatment

The Caulicure Cauliflower Ear Treatment system is a set of eight magnets (four pairs) in varying sizes designed to be applied after a cauliflower ear has been drained. After draining the ear, place a pair of magnets on either side of the effected area. The pressure of the magnets will prevent the ear from swelling back up, and after four to seven days, the ear will be back to looking normal.

This treatment system offers more sizes of magnets than any other competitor, meaning you can choose the magnet size to best fit your ear and the effected area. And while users typically complain that other magnet treatment systems apply either too much or too little pressure, that’s not the case with Caulicure; the amount of pressure seems to be just right to prevent swelling without causing too much pain.

What we liked:

  • Variety of magnet sizes
  • Perfect amount of pressure on the ear
  • Made of medical-grade silicone to ensure comfort

What we didn’t like:

  • Most expensive treatment option

Editor’s Choice: Ear Splintz Cauliflower Ear Treatment

Ear Splintz utilize the same method of treatment as magnets, but go about it in a different way. Rather than applying magnets to either side of the ear to prevent swelling, Ear Splintz are molded to fit your specific ear. Much like molding a mouth guard to your own set of unique teeth, Ear Splints are molded around your ear. After using the materials provided to create a mold of your ear, wear Ear Splintz whenever you feel the earliest signs of cauliflower ear, after draining a fresh cauliflower ear, or after each and ever practice to prevent cauliflower ear from ever happening.

While we love that Ear Splintz are designed to work as both a preventative measure and a way to treat cauliflower ear after it has been drained, we’re less excited about the size of the device. Unlike magnets which are much smaller (or even look like gauged ears), the Ear Splintz device covers the entire ear. And while it’s great for wearing overnight, most people will feel less than comfortable wearing it out in public.

What we liked:

  • Custom molding to ensure the ear returns or stays in its natural shape
  • Works for both prevention and treatment
  • Covers entire ear to prevent slipping when sleeping

What we didn’t like:

  • Large, could be awkward to wear in public
  • Some reviewers report that the pressure is too weak

Best Value: CauliBuds Cauliflower Ear Prevention Kit

For an effective treatment system that is a bit lighter on the wallet, we recommend CauliBuds. These are silicone magnets that are worn on both sides of the effected ear after it has been drained. Each kit comes with four magnets (two pairs) in two different sizes.

This magnet system of treatment is pretty straight forward, but may be less comfortable than some of the more top-of-the-line options. Moreover, a number of reviewers state that the magnets are simply too strong, which makes wearing them unbearable, and in some situations, could even cause more bruising of the ear.

What we liked:

  • Magnets come in different sizes for different ears
  • Relatively small and discrete
  • A proven method of treatment

What we didn’t like:

  • Pressure may be too strong
  • Can only be used after cauliflower ear has occurred and been drained

Earcovery – Cold Therapy System for Ears

Unlike other entries on our list, the Earcovery system is designed solely to prevent cauliflower ear from ever flaring up. Using the power of cold to reduce inflammation, this device is worn on the head and covers both ears with cold packs. Simply wear the Earcovery system the moment your ears start to feel tender or bruised, or after any hard training session to prevent cauliflower ear from ever happening.

Perhaps more so than any other treatment on our list, Earcovery is incredibly easy to use; just take it out of your freezer and put it on your head. There’s no molding needed, and because there’s no real pressure on your ears, you’ll avoid the pain associated with many magnet systems.

However, it’s important to note that Earcovery will not stop a treated cauliflower ear from swelling back up. While it may reduce pain or nip early signs of cauliflower ear in the bud, once an ear has swelled up and been drained, pressure will be the only way to permanently return the ear to its natural shape.

What we liked:

  • Ease of use — simply wear it on the head
  • Designed to prevent cauliflower ear before it ever happens
  • Reduces pain

What we didn’t like:

  • Won’t treat cauliflower ear after it has swelled
  • Will not prevent extreme cases of cauliflower ear from happening

Rescue Ear Magnetic Discs for Cauliflower Ear Treatment and Prevention

The final entry on our list is the Rescue Ear system, which is a pair of magnets designed to apply pressure to the effected ear, preventing it from swelling back up. Unlike other magnet systems, Rescue Ear’s magnets are connected by a rubber strap, which makes the magnets less likely to fall off and much harder to lose. However, because the magnets are connected and only come in one size, they may be difficult to fit to certain ears or cauliflower ear that has swelled in different parts of the ear.

Some reviewers state that, while these magnets are relatively comfortable to wear, the pressure is too weak to prevent further swelling of severe cauliflower ear.

What we liked:

  • Magnets connected to ensure snug fit and eliminate slipping
  • Made with medical-grade silicone

What we didn’t like:

  • Pressure may be too weak
  • Lack of variety in size of magnets

Comparison of our top five cauliflower ear treatments of 2021

ProductMethod of treatmentPrevention or treatment after swelling has occurred?Size/fit
Caulicure Cauliflower Ear Treatment (Best overall)MagnetsTreatment after swelling and drainingFour sizes of magnets
Ear Splintz Cauliflower Ear Treatment (Editor’s choice)Custom molding/pressureBoth prevention and treatment after swelling and drainingCustom molded to fit specific ear
CauliBuds Cauliflower Ear Prevention Kit (Best value)MagnetsTreatment after swelling and drainingTwo sizes of magnets
Earcovery – Cold Therapy System for EarsCold therapyPrevention before swelling or earliest stages of cauliflower earOne size fits all
Rescue Ear Magnetic Discs for Cauliflower Ear Treatment and PreventionMagnetsTreatment after swelling and drainingOne size of magnet

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