In today’s society sports ear injuries are becoming more and more prevalent due to the physical demands of each sport in order to be competitive. Often times these injuries show an initial physical deformity which can evolve into a severe infection, causing permanent damage to the ear and(or) hearing if not treated properly. Sports where we commonly see ear and hearing damage are:
- Nascar wrecks (TBI)
- Scuba/sky diving (pressure changes)
- Hiking (frostbite)
- BMX /skateboarding (falls)
- Water polo
- Wrestling/boxing (cauliflower ear)
- Body piercings (keloids) or tattoos
- Burns from fires/heat
- Mixed martial arts
- Football/Hockey (concussions)
The easiest injuries to notice are physical deformities of the ear. The most common being cauliflower ear. ESPN the magazine recently wrote a peculiar article describing the wrestling community’s infatuation with the deformity.
Piercing and tattoos are more common nowadays than ever as a physical expression, especially in sports. These body modifications have been known to cause infections, stretching of the skin that must be removed, and/or keloids (scar tissue). A keloid scar is benign and not contagious, but is sometimes accompanied by severe itchiness and pain. Frostbite, severe burns, or significant pressure changes can also cause permanent physical damage to the auditory system.
The injuries that don’t leave a physical scar are often more severe in the long run. Traumatic brain injuries, concussions, or repeated blows to the head often cause cognitive or perceptual issues for which there is not yet a cure (i.e. tinnitus). The worst case scenario is paralysis due to a traumatic brain injury. The National Football League has made targeting/leading with the head a point of emphasis over the past few years, which has been implemented down to youth leagues as well.
A team of experts should be consulted if any of these injuries occur:
- Primary Care Physician: Diagnosis of symptoms and referral to specialist of symptoms reported.
- Ear, Nose, and Throat Physician: Specializes in infections and surgical procedures of the ear.
- Dermatologist: Specializes in skin infections and deformities of the ear.
- Audiologist: Specializes in hearing loss and tinnitus management.
- Psychologist: Specializes in treating mental disorders that can appear from injuries.
We need to be aware of the sports ear injuries that happen which could result in hearing loss, permanent deformity, or both. We recommend a team approach that relies on a variety of medical specialists working together to provide the highest-quality care.