Surfer’s ear, known medically as exostosis, refers to an abnormal bone growth within the ear canal that can narrow the passage and block the eardrum. Surfer’s ear is caused by repeated exposure to the cold wind and cold water often experienced while surfing or swimming. The condition is much less prevalent in individuals who swim or surf in warmer waters.
Patients with this condition may experience itchiness in the ears or feel that their ear is plugged. The blockage may result in difficulty cleaning the ear of water, wax and other substances. The buildup of fluid, in turn, may lead to inflammation and infection, resulting in an earache and even loss of hearing. An exostosis can develop in as few as 5 years if precautions are not taken by individuals who spend extended periods of time in cold water.
Treatment of exostosis is the surgical removal of the bony growth in the ear. This procedure may be performed using minimally invasive techniques through the ear canal or through incisions in the back of the ear. Either approach is usually performed outpatient, but during the 4 to 6 week recovery period patients are required to avoid any cold water activities to avoid complications. It is best for individuals whose activities put them at risk for surfer’s ear to take preventive measures by wearing earplugs designed for the purpose, avoiding activity during extreme cold or windy conditions, and covering their ears with a swim cap or neoprene hood whenever possible.