Those serious about the sport will tell you that surfing is the best thing about being alive. The idea of going toe to toe with Mother Nature, catching wave after wave until the day ends is pure nirvana for most surfers. However, surfing has many hazards that can quickly turn a perfect day into a nightmare. Underwater reefs, dangerous animals like sharks and jellyfish, and sudden weather changes are just a few.
But there’s another hazard that plagues surfers, and it’s one that is often overlooked until it’s too late. It’s called surfer’s ear.
Surfer’s ear is a very painful medical condition, and the purpose of this article is to touch on what causes it, its symptoms and how to treat and prevent it.
The condition occurs in the ear canal when and abnormal bone growth develops. It’s not the same thing as swimmer’s ear, which can be treated far more easily. Also known as exostosis, surfer’s ear causes new bones to develop in an area already made up of small bones. When that happens it crowds and narrows the ear canal and can lead to intense pain, tinnitus, infection and, if untreated- hearing loss.
The cause of surfer’s ear is pretty specific and it might surprise you. According to scientists, exposure to cold water and chilling winds are the root cause. Cold water and wind can irritate the ear canal and the body responds by developing new bones. The more you’re exposed to cold water and wind, the worse the condition can get until the canal closes up so much that it traps water and debris, leading to infection, pain and hearing loss.
The treatment options for surfer’s ear are few and not very appealing. In fact, the only way to cure the condition is to surgically remove the abnormal bone growths. Some surfers can develop the condition without experiencing any serious symptoms, and as long as they limit future exposure, they can usually avoid surgery.
Preventing surfer’s ear in the first place is the best course of action. The obvious thing to do would be to avoid surfing in cold water and winds, but for most surfers, that’s probably not an option. In that case, wearing earplugs are the next best thing. While some might not consider them fashionable or “cool,” earplugs are still a lot cooler than going deaf.