Surfers ear: Cause, prevention and treatment

What is Surfer's ear, and how can I prevent it?
What is Surfer's ear, and how can I prevent it? | Source

“What is surfer's ear? And how do I prevent it?” I hear you whisper. Well, gather up, sit down next to the bonfire and listen up, for I will tell you the tale.

Surfer's ear might sound like a cool thing to have, but it is definitely not. What it actually means is abnormal bone growth (exostosis) occurring within the ear canal, which can in severe cases limit both hearing function (either temporarily or progressively) and make the subject more prevalent to ear infections.

Surfer's ear conditions occur due to repeated irritation from cold wind and water, which leads to the bone surrounding the ear canal to adapt to the situation; by developing lumps of new bony growth which in turn will constrict and narrow down the ear canal.

[Picture A] The 'before' picture. A normal, health ear canal.
[Picture A] The 'before' picture. A normal, health ear canal. | Source
[Picture B] A severe case of Surfer's ear, in which the ear canal has been significantly narrowed by abnormal bone growth (exostosis).
[Picture B] A severe case of Surfer's ear, in which the ear canal has been significantly narrowed by abnormal bone growth (exostosis). | Source

Here are two pictures, one (A) of a normal ear canal and another (B) one in which the individual has suffered moderate bone growth changes within the external auditory canal, which is known in layman terms as surfer’s ear.

And in this case, as in so many others, prevention is the better option when compared with the cure/treatment; as that includes anesthesia, a certified (hopefully) surgeon and a choice of either chiseling or drilling away the new bone which has formed in your ear canal. Chiseling has been shown to be the better option out of the two, as drilling may cause partial hearing loss due to the high intensity sound.


Prevention
There are three main ways of avoiding Surfer’s ear:

1) Move to Costa Rica, Sri Lanka or Bali where the water is always warm. We know this might be hard on your current life, but hey, you do not want to develop Surfer’s ear do you?!. In other words, avoid activity in the most extreme cold conditions.

2) Wear swimming/surfing ear plugs every time you surf. Go invest in some right now.

3) Wear a swim cap or neoprene hood if the water is very cold (Scandinavian and British surfers I am thinking of you.)


Do yourself and your loved ones a favor, wear a neoprene hood in Nordic conditions and wear ear plugs at times when exposed to cold water and wind. That way you will be able to hear what your mates are saying when you are having that refreshing aftersurf drink.


... “Hearing the blues changed my life.” …
- Van Morrison


FAQ - Surfers Ear:


Q - Can Surfer's ear be deadly?

A - No, surfer's ear can not be deadly. It can however cause some considerable problems in terms of severe hearing loss, which will have a severe detrimental effect on your life situation.


Q - Can only surfers get Surfer's ear?

A - No, also kayakers, wind-surfers and others partaking in watersports in cold conditions are all at risk of developing this condition. Cold water swimming is another activity which might cause this condition. It is heavilly recommended that also these types of athletes take preventative measures in form of ear plugs or neoprene hoods.


If you have any other questions, please let us hear them in the 'comments' section below.

- Alexander

/// Superstoked Surfing Magazine

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1 comment

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States

Very good information to understand and to prevent.

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