What is Surfer’s Ear
Surfer’s ear is an ear canal condition that can significantly affect normal hearing. Medically known as “exostosis of the external auditory canal,” surfer’s ear is caused by repeated exposure to cold water and wind. Cooling of the ear canal stimulates bone growth that narrows the canal and blocks the eardrum. This narrowing traps water and earwax in the canal, often resulting in painful ear infections and hearing loss. It is called Surfer’s Ear because surfers often confront cold water for much longer periods of time than most swimmers, but in can be encountered in anyone who is exposed to cold water (i.e. life guards, divers, swimmers, etc). Warm water surfers need to be aware that they can also at risk for exostosis due to evaporative cooling caused by wind and the presence of water in the ear canal.
This is not to be confused with Swimmer’s ear which describes inflammation/infection of the ear canal without bone growth. Surfer’s ear takes years to form and thus is more common in those in their mid-thirties to forties but can be found in all age ranges. It can be prevented by wearing ear plugs, hooded wetsuits, surfing muffs, etc. It is six times more common in cold water athletes than warm water athletes.
In general, one ear maybe worse depending on prevailing wind directions in the areas most visited by the patient. The colder the water, the quicker the exostosis grows. Surfer’s Ear is difficult to diagnose and manage without a comprehensive medical evaluation and specialty care from Dr. Sigari, who is a trained otolaryngolgist that has had an additional 2 years of training specializing in hearing.
How is Surfer’s Ear Treated
Typically when the hearing is significantly decreased, surgery is recommended to remove the bone that has built up. This usually requires general anesthesia but is an outpatient surgery. In Dr. Sigari’s practice, he is able to achieve this surgery all through the ear canal which replaces the traditional incision behind the ear, hence the term incision-less surfer’s ear surgery. The advantages for the patient are less exposure to noise during surgery that can damage hearing, more rapid healing and a faster return to water sports. This is an important aspect for patient who suffer from surfer’s ear and they often lead active lives and fast recovery is paramount.