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What Is Surfer’s Ear and How Can It Be Prevented?

by Kurt Doyle

Everyone has dealt with the annoyance of water getting stuck in their ear after a day at the beach or in the pool. But it turns out that for people who spend a lot of time in the water, like surfers, there is danger of more than a bit of annoyance: a condition called surfer’s ear can lead to permanent hearing damage if left untreated.

What Is Surfer’s Ear?

Surfer’s ear, or auditory exostosis, refers to an abnormal bone growth in the outer ear canal that results from chronic prolonged exposure to cold wind and water. Those conditions are common for surfers - especially in the United Kingdom, where water temperatures remain cool year-round - making surfer’s ear a common affliction among them, as the name suggests. The bone growth can cause water and other debris to get trapped in the ear canal. This in turn interferes with ear wax’s routine cleaning of the ear, which leads to painful ear infections.

Exostoses (the intrusive bone growths) can develop with as little as five years of regular exposure to cold water and wind. If left untreated, the infections they cause can lead to permanent hearing damage. Warning signs of surfer’s ear include painful ear infections (especially if they recur frequently), itchy ears, discharge from the ears, and chronic difficulty clearing water from the ear.

What Can Be Done to Prevent It?

The first step to prevention is awareness. Claire Walters, an audiologist at Specsavers hearing center in Truro, Cornwall, England, told ThisIsCornwall.com “Surfing is growing and growing as a sport, unfortunately educating young surfers on protecting their hearing isn’t matching this popularity increase.” She went on to say ”I see a lot of young surfers coming into store with bad cases of surfer’s ear who aren’t doing anything to protect from it. Although better to start wearing protection early, it is never too late and by doing so it can prevent the condition from worsening.”

Walters recommends a well-fitted ear plug, ideally one that is custom-fitted to the user’s ear to offer maximum protection from water getting into the ear in the first place. By taking this precaution, surfer’s ear is easily preventable. As Walters explained to ThisIsCornwell.com, “If you leave the condition unchecked or don’t make efforts to protect your ears then permanent hearing loss is a very real possibility. However, it isn’t a condition that surfers and other cold water hobbyists have to accept as their lot, it is very much preventable.”


If surfers aren’t careful and they do develop an exostosis, it may require surgery to remove it and alleviate the chronic ear infections. It is a relatively simple procedure, taking 60 to 90 minutes, during which the patient is under anesthesia. It does, however, require several weeks after the surgery for the ear canal to fully heal, during which it is very important to keep the ear as dry as possible.

For more information on the various causes of, and treatments for, hearing loss visit findhearingaids.com. If you are experiencing hearing loss and want to know your options, contact us for a free consultation.

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