What Is The Surfer’s Ear?
Surfer’s ear is a condition where extra lumps of bone growth in the ear canal. This occurs as the body’s response to exposure to cold water and wind. The combination of the two creates a chill factor in the ear. The extra bone growth is known as exostosis. This is the body’s response to the cold, the defense mechanism being to grow extra bone in the ear canal to protect the eardrum. Exostosis is common among surfers, particularly those in cold water, along with windsurfers, kayakers, divers, sailors, and other water sports participants.
What Are The Symptoms Of The Surfer’s Ear?
Those with a surfer’s ear can feel as if their ear is plugged. It can feel itchy inside the ear. As more bone growth narrows the ear canal, it can be more difficult to get water out of your ear after swimming or surfing.
One of the telltale symptoms is recurring ear infections. Because water can become trapped in the ear and less air can get in to dry things out, the chances of infection grow. Bacteria in the water or other debris lead to these infections.
As the bone intrudes further into the ear canal, the hearing becomes diminished. If the blockage becomes 90 percent or greater, the person will have significant hearing loss.
Can Surfer’s Ear Cause Tinnitus?
Tinnitus/ringing in the ears is one of the effects of a more extreme surfer’s ear. It is not part of early or moderate surfer’s ear, though.
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How Is Surfer’s Ear Different From The Swimmer’s Ear?
“Surfer’s Ear” is the layered bone growth that occurs in the ear canal as a response to repeated exposure to cold water and wind. “Swimmer’s ear” is a bacterial infection of the skin of the ear canal that causes swelling of the ear canal skin. This infection is painful and must be treated with antibiotic ear drops. Swimmer’s ear can develop as a result of the person not being able to get water out of the ear due to a moderate or advanced surfer’s ear.
How Do You Prevent Surfer’s Ear?
Surfer’s ear is the body’s reaction to the cold water and wind exposure inside the ear. The bone growth is a defense mechanism to protect the eardrum from these elements. The most obvious form of prevention is to not surf or partake in other watersports in water below 68° F. Anything below 68° F (20° C) stimulates bone growth. At 60° F, surfers have 2.6 times better chances of developing severe exostoses in their ear canal.
If that isn’t as practical as you still want to enjoy the watersport, the best prevention method is to wear high-quality silicone earplugs while in the water.
Other prevention methods include wearing a wetsuit hood or special headband that covers and seals the ears.
What Are The Treatment Options For The Surfer’s Ear?
The only treatment of the bony growths of the surfer’s ear is surgery. When the exostosis becomes severe, Dr. Daneshrad chisels or drills out the bony growths. Dr. Daneshrad typically enters through the ear canal using very small chisels. If the growths are quite close to the eardrum, a drill will be used to lessen the chances of damaging the eardrum, which is more prevalent when chisels are used.
Another option is to enter from behind the ear through an incision. This also lowers the chance of eardrum damage.
Is Surfer’s Ear Painful?
As the surfer’s ear develops, there are typically no early symptoms. There isn’t any pain. As the bone growths become larger and block more of the ear canal, ear infections will become more common. These can be painful. Exostosis itself, however, is not painful.
What Are The Risks If I Don’t Treat My Surfer’s Ear?
Exostosis isn’t something to leave untreated. The bony growths will continue to get larger. This will cause loss of hearing, and it will make it harder and harder to clear your ear of water and ear wax. This is a recipe for chronic ear infections and pain.
These are not difficult surgeries with Dr. Daneshrad. He can effectively remove the bony growths and fully reopen your ear canal. You can be back in the water is typically 4 to 8 weeks. You must let the ear fully heal first.
How Common Is Surfer’s Ear?
As modern wetsuits have improved, surfers are able to surf in colder water. This leads to more cases of surfer’s ear. It’s thought that most surfers in colder waters have some degree of exostosis. For about half of surfers, it’s estimated that they have mild surfer’s ear, where small bony lumps block less than one-third of the ear canal. One-quarter of surfers are thought to have moderate exostosis, where from 33 to 66 percent of the ear canal is blocked. One quarter has severe surfer’s ear, where over two-thirds of the ear canal is blocked.
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