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What is Surfer's Ear?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Surfer's ear is an ear condition characterized by bony growths in the ear canal. These growths can act to trap debris inside the ear, creating ear infections, and they can also contribute to hearing loss. Fortunately, surfer's ear is also very treatable with a surgery in which the excess bone growth is removed. It can also be prevented with a few easy steps which will protect the ears and maximize the amount of time someone can spend in the water.

The growth of excess bone, known as exostosis, can occur in the ear for a number of reasons. In the case of surfers and other people who spend a lot of time in the water, the contributing factors seem to be wind and cold water. Surfers who enjoy cold waters are much more likely to develop surfer's ear than swimmers who primarily spend their time in warm water. Surfer's ear can also strike kayakers and other people who spend time in wet, cold, windy conditions, including some biologists, fishermen, and farmers.

It takes time for the bone growth associated with surfer's ear to become serious. People usually notice that their ears seem more tender and prone to infections first, and they may eventually note hearing loss. If hearing loss occurs gradually, it may not be apparent until substantial hearing loss has already occurred. A doctor can examine the patient, identify the exostosis, and write a referral to a surgeon who can remove the growths.

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After surgery, the patient needs to stay out of the conditions which led to the development of surfer's ear for several months. For recreational surfers, this can be frustrating, but for people who need to be outdoors to make a living, this can be a serious problem. Patients may be tempted to go out before they are cleared to resume normal activity, and this can contribute to the development of infections and other problems. Once fully healed, patients should take care to wear ear protection.

Prevention of swimmer's ear starts with wearing ear plugs to protect the ear canal. For people who need to hear, plugs which allow sound in but keep water and wind out are available. It is also advisable to further protect the ears with a hood, cap, or band which keeps them warm and insulated. Furthermore, making sure that the ears dry fully after sessions in the water is also advised; this will also prevent ear infections.

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