What is it?
Surfer’s Ear, or Swimmer’s Ear are the common names given to what medical specialists call exostoses. Exostoses is due to new bone formation in the ear canal in response to regular contact with cold water or cold air.
If you have small exostoses, then you are unlikely to experience any problems. As the exostoses become bigger they can block water, wax and skin from moving naturally out of the ear canal. The build-up of this debris may lead to hearing loss and infection in the ear canal which can be associated with pain.
As exostoses grow in response to contact with cold air or water, wearing ear plugs while skiing, sailing, surfing and swimming will prevent their formation. Passage of a small amount of water past an ear plug can still occur but is usually of no consequence. We recommend two types of ear plugs, Doc’s Pro Plugs are cheap, but may not fit well in all ear canals. Custom plugs are more expensive, but more effective.
Keeping your ears dry eliminates one of the factors that can cause symptoms as a result of exostoses. If water does get into your ear canal, drying it with a hair dryer can help. Having ear wax (cerumen) removed on a regular basis will keep your ear canals free from obstruction.
What if I can no longer manage it?
If the hearing loss, pain and ear infections become frequent, surgical removal of the exostoses is a treatment option. In this case we recommend that you consult with an otologist (specialist Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon) to discuss surgical management options, if you are a suitable candidate. Potential risks and benefits will also be discussed.