Surfer’s ear is not the same as swimmer’s ear, but many people confuse the two conditions or use the terms interchangeably. Surfer’s ear is defined by abnormal but benign bone growth in the ear canal. With time, these slowly developing growths form what is called “extoses”. Eventually surfer’s ear can cause partial or a complete blockage of the ear canal.
Symptoms and signs
Early exostosis, associated with surfer’s ear, often do not result in any symptoms. As the bony growths expand, however, they fill the external ear canal can trap water and ear wax. This leads to external otitis (an ear infection) and alters the shape of the ear canal. Rarely, people experience 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 may cause discomfort and can lead to an infection. Surfer’s ear usually occurs with repeated or prolonged exposure to cold wind or cold water.
Solutions and options
Most cases of exostosis do not cause any significant problems. If infections occur they are treated medically by cleaning and antibiotic drops. Difficulties occur when the growths impede the movement of water or other debris out of the ear canal and, subsequently, can lead to recurring infections. Solutions include avoiding cold water and wind and utilizing custom earplugs or a neoprene hood when in the water.
Sometimes, surfer’s ear leads to a chronic form of the condition, and surgery is recommended. There are several types of surgical treatments for surfer’s ear: surgical removal with a drill or chisel and laser surgery.
The drill or chisel surgical methods are usually achieved with outpatient surgery and you are able to return home the same day of surgery. 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 custom earplugs after the ear canal has healed. The surfer may return to the waves but only with earplugs. 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.