Surfer’s ear is not the same swimmer’s ear, but many people confuse the two conditions. Surfer’s ear is the result of an abnormal bone growth in the ear canal. What happens is the abnormal bone growth is made up of several bony growths called exostoses. Eventually surfer’s ear can cause partial or a complete blockage of the ear canal.
Symptoms and Signs
Early exostoses, associated with surfer’s ear, often do not result in any symptoms. As the bony growths expand, however, they fill the external ear canal and trap water. This leads to external otitis (an ear infection) and alters the shape of the ear canal. Some people have conductive hearing loss and ear pain with this condition. Other symptoms that could occur include dizziness, ear pressure, ringing in the ears, and ear drainage.
Cause and Concerns
The ear canal is narrow, and foreign objects and water can easily become lodged there. This causes pain and could lead to an infection. There is only one cause of surfer’s ear and that is exposure to wind and cold water for long periods. There are two types of surfers: cold-water surfers and warm water surfers. Cold-water surfers are seven times more likely to develop surfer’s ear than warm water surfers.
Solutions and Options
If surfer’s ear is left untreated, you could lose up to 90% of your hearing. Surfer’s ear and swimmer’s ear are usually affected by the same type of infection. The infection results from a narrow ear canal that allows water or foreign object to become trapped. The only way to remove the water or foreign objects is to completely clean the ear canal. Generally, it takes several visits to an ear specialist for the ear canal to restore to its original state. In addition to cleaning the ear canal, antibiotics may be necessary. Sometimes more than one course of antibiotics is needed.
Sometimes, surfer’s ear leads to a chronic form of the condition, and surgery is necessary. There are two types of surgical treatments for surfer’s ear: outpatient surgery and laser surgery.
With outpatient surgery, you go home the same day of the procedure. One of our ear specialists makes a small incision behind the affected ear and removes the bony growths. The recovery time for this procedure is about a month. During the recovery period, you cannot swim or surf, and you must be extra careful showering, so water does not reenter the ear. Surgeons strongly recommend the use of earplugs after the ear canal has healed. The surfer may return to the waves but only with earplugs. Surgery is only a temporary fix for some people, and this depends on the severity of the condition.
The second option is laser surgery where a laser is used to burn the bony growths and remove them from the ear canal. This recovery period is a lot longer with laser surgery, and the procedure will need to be done again with two to three years.
The best way to keep surfer’s ear under control is with preventative measures. For prevention, use earplugs and a special surfer hat or headband. The best advice is to use all three! If you think you may have surfer’s ear, call today to schedule an appointment with one of our caring ear specialists.