Surfer’s ear or exostosis

Surfing is a captivating water sport filled with emotions that attracts millions of enthusiasts around the globe. However, behind this passion, there are health risks that surfers need to pay particular attention to. Among these risks, surfer’s ear, scientifically known as external auditory canal osteoma or ear exostosis, is a common issue among surf enthusiasts. In this article, we will explore the potential consequences of surfer’s ear and the preventive measures every surfer should take to preserve their hearing and overall health.

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1. What is surfer’s ear?

Surfer’s ear is a defensive reaction of the body characterized by the formation of a bony growth inside the external auditory canal. This growth, called an exostosis, is typically the result of repeated exposure to cold water and wind. The combination of cold and wind leads to a decrease in temperature within the ear canal, which can trigger a protective response from the body by producing additional bone growth. This problem affects not only surfers but also individuals engaged in other water sports. Surfers who spend long hours in the water, exposed to marine elements and specific environmental conditions, are more likely to develop it.

Le surf est mauvais pour la santé : épisode 1, l'oreille du surfeur

Diagram of surfer’s ear and Exostosis

2. What are the consequences of surfer’s ear?

Surfer’s ear can lead to various health consequences for surfers:

  • Obstruction of the ear canal: One of the most common consequences of surfer’s ear is partial or complete blockage of the external auditory canal. Exostoses can reduce the diameter of the ear canal, resulting in decreased hearing and a feeling of plugged ears.
  • Decreased hearing: Due to the obstruction of the ear canal, surfers with surfer’s ear may experience a decrease in their hearing acuity. Sounds may appear less clear or less audible, especially soft or distant sounds.
  • Wax buildup and earwax plugs: Exostoses can disrupt the natural process of earwax elimination, causing excessive wax buildup in the ear canal. This can lead to the formation of earwax plugs, which can cause a sensation of plugged ears, decreased hearing, and an increased risk of ear infections.
  • Increased susceptibility to ear infections: Surfers with surfer’s ear are more prone to developing ear infections, particularly external otitis. The condition creates an environment conducive to water retention and bacterial proliferation, thereby increasing the risk of ear infections. Symptoms may include intense pain, itching, discharge, and inflammation of the ear.
  • Pain and discomfort: Exostoses can cause pain and a feeling of discomfort in the affected ear. Surfers may experience pressure or heaviness in the ear.
  • Difficulties in ear cleaning: Exostoses can make it more challenging to clean the ear, as they obstruct access to the ear canal. This can make ear hygiene more complicated and increase the risk of complications such as wax buildup and infections.

3. How to prevent surfer’s ear?

Prevention is crucial to avoid the development of surfer’s ear. Here are some important preventive measures to consider:

a. Wear earplugs:

Use earplugs specifically designed for surfing. They can prevent cold water and wind from entering the ear canal, thereby reducing the risk of exostosis formation. Typically, symptoms do not appear until the age of 30 to 40, and individuals with exostosis may not notice the early signs. Symptoms manifest after 10 to 15 years of repeated exposure to cold water. Although symptoms of exostosis tend to occur more frequently in adults aged 30 to 40, it is possible for younger individuals to be affected, especially if they are regularly exposed to cold water. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to prioritize wearing earplugs to preserve your hearing, even before the onset of initial signs.

Surfears 3.0 (Taille pour enfants de 5 à 12 ans) : Bouchons d'oreille Surf Ears pour lutter contre l'exostose | Loisirs 3000

Surfer with earplugs

b. Use Neoprene Surf Hoods:

In addition to earplugs, neoprene surf hoods can provide additional protection against the elements, including cold water and wind. They are particularly useful during long winter surf sessions.

Pourquoi surfer avec une cagoule néoprène en hiver ?

Surfer with a neoprene surf hood

c. Regularly Consult an ENT Specialist:

Make regular visits to an ENT specialist. They can monitor the condition of your ears and detect any early signs of exostosis, monitoring its progression. The goal is to anticipate and avoid the need for surgical intervention by the age of 50.

Surfer’s ear is common among surfing enthusiasts due to repeated exposure to cold water and wind. However, by taking appropriate preventive measures, such as wearing earplugs for surfing and using surf hoods in winter, it is possible to significantly reduce the risk of developing this condition or delay its onset. Remember to regularly consult an ENT specialist to monitor the condition of your ears and take necessary measures if symptoms appear. Lastly, while symptoms tend to manifest in individuals aged 30 to 40, be aware that signs can also appear over time in individuals in their 20s to 30s but develop later. Therefore, we strongly recommend prioritizing the use of earplugs, especially if you are regularly exposed to cold water.

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