Listen Up! Do You Have Exostosis?
by Bob Driver
Ok… As Indian Summer is kicking in let’s talk about a cold issue lurking around Winter’s corner.
“Say what? Speak up… I didn’t hear.” Unfortunately buddy, you just made my point and probably diagnosed yourself with a possible acute case of Surfer’s Ear.
The truth is as many of us surfers accumulate more water time in cold and windy conditions we also accumulate more cartilage growths on top of the small bones inside our ear canals… or as medical science calls it – Exostosis.
This condition usually strikes one ear more than the other (normally the ear on the side of prevailing winds in the area surfed) and can be the origin for temporary or ongoing hearing loss, an increase in ear infections or an uncomfortable ear plugged sensation, due to difficulty evacuating debris or water from the canal after a surf session (or shower).
A Few Urban Myths Surrounding Surfer’s Ear
First, many young shredders/ 20-Something Short Boarders believe that Surfer’s Ear is an Old Man’s/Logger issue. Well, this just isn’t true. Mild exostosis is present in most devoted surfers. The condition is progressive, making it important to take preventative measures early on.
Second, only crusty surfers from the cold waters of North are susceptible to Surfer’s Ear. Wrong again… Even warm water surfers are at risk for exostosis; this is due to the evaporative cooling caused by wind when there is water present in the ear canal.
Preventative Measures To Combat Surfer’s Ear
- Stay out of the water… (Ok, let’s move on to #2)
- Wear Ear Plugs – Every reputable surf shop has a selection of ear plugs. Or visit your personal physician or Otolaryngologist to get personally fitted ear plugs.
- Wear a wetsuit hood – This cuts down the effects of chilly winds while keeping your ear canals toasty warm.
- Wear a beanie post surf – This stylish fashion statement helps prevent the residual water left inside the ear canal from being chilled by cold wind.
Using remedies like Isopropyl Alcohol with Vinegar or Swimmer’s Ear products don’t treat Exostosis, however they can alleviate the pain that is common with ear infections that accompany Surfer’s Ear.
What To Do In A Severe Exostosis Situation
Visit your doctor and if the diagnosis is severe enough brace yourself for possible surgery. This scenario is not to be taken lightly and it is highly recommended to get a second opinion. Surgery consists of drilling or chiseling to remove the excessive bone growths inside the ear canal. In some situations an incision has to be made behind the ear to facilitate access… basically they peal your ear off, increasing your out-of- the-water healing time.
If it comes down to surgery, do your homework and explore all your options.
The Downside of Surfer’s Ear
Dealing with the real world effects of Surfer’s Ear can be rough as Jason Woolcott of TransWorld Surf recounted awhile back, “I slide my way through the crowded bar spotting an old time friend. Usually I would be excited to have an opportunity to catch up with my buddy. Instead I grab my jacket and head out into the quite night. Am I rude? Or do I just not feel like reading lips and making an ass of myself when I don’t catch what he is saying. After spending the last 20 years surfing in the less than temperate waters of California, I have an extreme case of exostosis…”
Have you or any of your crew dealt with Surfer’s Ear? How do you feel about wearing ear plugs in the surf? And for those of you Isurus Wetsuit wearers, how cozy are your ears inside an Isurus Hoodie?
Surfer’s Ear via TransWorld Surf