An analysis of the ears of a cross-section of 119 surfers found that 66% had developed "exostoses" or bone growths in the ear
Researchers at the University of Limerick, Ireland made an analysis of the ears of a cross-section of 119 surfers found that 66% had developed exostoses, or bone growths, although 88% of them were unaware of the fact.
The research published in the latest issue of the Irish Journal of Medical Science(Feb. 2015), this is the first study of its kind in the UK or Ireland. The authors of the report, who examined only those who surfed predominantly off the Irish coast, found that the bone growths took between five and six years to develop.
The researchers suggest that surfer’s ear, as the complaint is known, could be more prevalent among Irish surfers because of their repeated exposure to cold water, making this research also relevant to surfers in the UK and temperate regions throughout the world.
Why Surfers Ear Is On The Increase?
Since the wetsuit has become so widely available and accepted, levels of incidence and severity of surfers ear have been steadily rising in Ireland and across the world
What Exactly Is Surfers Ear?
External Auditory exostosis or ‘surfers ear’ is an abdominal bone growth inside the ear canal. Exostosis (which in Greek means new bone) typically takes around 5-10 years to grow to a size, deemed large enough to operate on. Unlike swimmers ear, surfer’s ear develops in response to the stimuli of cold water and the cooling effect of the wind. No one really knows why the ear reacts this way to the cold but once the boney growth is present it doesn’t go away. And now with more and more surfers dedicating themselves to surf throughout winter it should really come as no surprise to the surfing community. My own hypothesis is that its is an epigenetic adaptation by the ear to being in the ocean under cold windy conditions, so often. Its a pity really that we dont just develop gills! which would be much more useful i feel.
Prevention Of Surfers Ear
Narrowing of the ear canal may result in:
- Blockage & difficulty clearing ears of water, wax and debris
- Recurrent ear infection
- Decreased hearing or deafness
What to look out for:
- Ear pain, itchy ears, discharge or recurrent infection
- Difficulty clearing water from ears or a plugging sensation
- Problems with hearing loss
Wearing earplugs and hooded suits or vests will prevent surfers ear. Easier said than done. The hood is a no brainer and a necessity when surfing the winter season in Ireland, so compliance here is pretty good. With the earplugs on the other hand, personally speaking anyway, compliance is pretty poor. This latest study however might be just the kick up the arse that i need to always comply in the future.
Treatment Of Surfers Ear?
Years ago ENT surgeons were convinced that Surfer’s ear is just another sign of getting old and not at all likely to develop for surfers under the age of 40. However the increasing number of ‘underage’ cases that are beginning to creep into specialist offices is quickly turning that notion on its head. As Associate Professor Dr. Kong from Newcastle Private hospital in Australia relays, instances of young surfers as young as 15 are undergoing surgery. “In most cases however, all year round surfers have a small amount of exostosis but some simply develop quicker than others" Dr. Kong stated.
If conservative management fails and symptoms become frequent, surgery may be appropriate. The proceedure takes approximately 60-90 minutes. An incision can be made at the front of the ear (endaural) or at the back (post auricular) to provide better access to the ear canal. Under microscope the surgeon will remove the exostoses either with a miniature drill or a micro-chisel or both. Following successful removal of exostoses, the ear is packed, dressed and stitched. The pack remains in the ear for 2 weeks but you'll be out of the water for at least 6 weeks. Time out the water is dictated by how quickly your ear canal heals.
If you are suffering symptoms related to surfers’ ear they may be managed with the following
- Herbal Medicine: An oil infusion of Garlic cloves (Allium sativum) A very effective natural antibiotic. 2-3 drops in affected ear every 4 hours as needed. If pharmaceutical drugs are your thing antibiotic drops may be prescribed by a GP
- Anecdotal recommendation of solution of equal parts Isopropyl Alcohol, White Vinegar and Water. 3-5 drops in ear every time you go into the water to reduce ear problems
- Ensure clearance of excess wax build-up in the canal. Hydrogen peroxide solution topically can be beneficial here. Don’t use cotton wool buds or Q-tips in your ears as they compress wax down into the canal
- Common sense wearing hoodies etc after a surf, keeping ears dry in general and protecting ears on windy days
- Don’t cut the hair that grows out of your ears. This may act as a breach to prevent airlock and hence the trapping of water in the ear canal