The increased popularity of mixed martial arts and combatives training among troops has given rise to an unfortunate consequence: cauliflower ear.
Cases of cauliflower ear at military hospitals and clinics more than doubled from 2004 to 2013, and while the numbers are small (less than 40 in 2004), the increased incidence rate — a 166 percent rise in nine years — means more troops are engaging in contact sports and not wearing recommended headgear.
According to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, 829 service members were diagnosed with cauliflower ear from 2004 to 2013, but the figures likely are low, since many who develop the condition don’t see a doctor.
Groups particularly affected, according to AFHSC, include 20-something males, Marines, recruits, those who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander and combat-arms personnel.
The report on the data — a snapshot look at the condition in the armed services — did not explain why these groups developed the condition more than others.
Cauliflower ear can result when an ear suffers a blow and fluid or a blood clot collects in the tissue between the ear’s cartilage and skin. As the injury heals, fibrous tissue can form, causing the condition’s characteristic lumpiness and discoloration.
While some rugby players, mixed martial arts competitors, boxers and wrestlers see their misshapen ears as a badge of honor, many others would prefer their ears not resemble large cruciferous vegetables.
The center recommends athletes wear protective headgear during contact sports and if ear trauma occurs, to see a doctor to drain the fluids to reduce the risk of permanent damage.
Above: Cauliflower ear is common with fighters like Marine vet and former UFC fighter Brian Stann. (Mike Morones/Staff)