Surfer's ear, also known as external auditory canal exostosis (EACE) or exostosis, is a condition that every water sports enthusiast should be aware of. This condition, characterized by the formation of bony growths in the ear canal, can eventually lead to hearing loss if left untreated. Whether you're a surfer, swimmer, kayaker, or open water enthusiast, understanding surfer's ear is vital for your hearing health. In this article, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment of surfer's ear to help you keep riding the waves while safeguarding your hearing.
Surfer's ear is a condition where the ear canal narrows due to the development of bony growths. These growths, also known as exostosis, are your body's defense mechanism against prolonged exposure to cold water and wind, especially the combination of the two. They form in an attempt to protect the ear drum from temperature fluctuations and chilling winds. The more time you spend in cold water, the higher the risk of developing surfer's ear. Over time, these bony growths can accumulate and obstruct the ear canal, causing potential hearing problems.
If you suspect you have surfer's ear, it's important to seek medical attention. A diagnosis typically involves a thorough examination by a healthcare professional. If necessary, you may be referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist. Treatment options vary based on the severity of the condition:
In cases where mild ear infections are associated with surfer's ear, healthcare providers may prescribe ear drops as part of the treatment plan. Ear drops are specially formulated medications designed to be administered directly into the ear canal. These drops can help manage the infection by reducing inflammation, alleviating pain, and addressing the underlying bacterial or fungal causes. The use of ear drops can provide relief from the discomfort and symptoms of ear's surfer. It's crucial to follow the prescribed dosage and instructions for using ear drops to ensure their effectiveness.
For mild to moderate ear infections associated with surfer's ear, healthcare providers may prescribe antibiotics to combat the infection. Antibiotics are medications that work to eliminate bacterial infections within the ear canal. These medications can be taken orally or administered topically, depending on the severity of the infection. Antibiotics help to prevent the infection from worsening, reduce inflammation, and alleviate symptoms such as ear pain and discharge. It's essential to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your healthcare provider, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished. This ensures the infection is completely eradicated and reduces the risk of recurrence.
In severe cases, surgical removal of the bony growths is the only definitive treatment. This operation, often performed by an ENT specialist, involves carefully removing the exostosis to restore proper ear canal function. The surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia, and it takes about 1-2 hours.
There are two main types of surgery for surfer's ear:
The type of surgery that is best for you will depend on the severity of your condition and the location of the bony growths.
Surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure, and patients can typically return home the same day. However, the recovery period after surgery is essential, as it takes at least one month for the ear canal to heal.
The risks of surgery for surfer's ear are relatively low. However, as with any surgery, there is a risk of infection, ear bleeding, and other complications.
The cost of surfer's ear surgery in Australia typically exceeds $2900.
After treatment, it's essential to continue preventive measures such as wearing earplugs to avoid the reoccurrence of surfer's ear.
Surfer's ear can make you feel like your ear is plugged and itchy inside. As those bony growths in your ear canal narrow it, it becomes tougher to get water out after a swim or surf. A key sign is having ear infections happen more often. Water gets trapped, and it's hard for air to dry things out, so bacteria from the water or debris can lead to those infections.
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Surfer's ear can be diagnosed by a doctor or audiologist. They will look into your ear canal with a special instrument called an otoscope. They may also order a hearing test to assess your hearing loss. Here's an overview of the diagnostic process for surfer's ear:
The diagnosis often begins with a discussion of your medical history. Your healthcare provider will ask questions about your water activities, frequency of exposure to cold water, and any symptoms you may be experiencing, such as ear infections, water trapped in the ear, or hearing loss. Providing a detailed and accurate medical history is essential for a comprehensive evaluation.
A thorough physical examination of the ear is the next step in the diagnostic process. Your healthcare provider will use an otoscope, a handheld device with a light source and magnifying lens, to examine the external ear canal and eardrum. During this examination, the healthcare provider will look for the presence of bony growths within the ear canal. Exostoses typically appear as irregular bony protrusions or lumps within the ear canal. The degree of narrowing or blockage will also be assessed during this examination.
If you are experiencing hearing loss, your healthcare provider may recommend hearing tests to assess the extent of hearing impairment. Hearing tests, also known as audiometry, involve listening to sounds of different pitches and loudness levels to evaluate your ability to hear and understand speech. These tests can help determine whether the hearing loss is related to surfer's ear.
In some cases, imaging tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis or assess the extent of the bony growths. Computed tomography (CT) scans are commonly used for this purpose. CT scans provide detailed images of the ear canal and any exostoses present. This imaging can help determine the size, location, and density of the growths, which can be useful in treatment planning.
If the diagnosis remains unclear or if the condition is advanced, your healthcare provider may refer you to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist, also known as an otolaryngologist. ENT specialists have specialized training in ear and hearing disorders and can provide a more in-depth evaluation and treatment options, including surgical intervention if necessary.
Surfer's ear and swimmer's ear are different ear conditions.
Recognizing the differences between these conditions is crucial for their timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Whether you're a surfer or a swimmer, understanding these distinctions ensures you can continue to enjoy water activities with minimized discomfort and health risks.
The primary cause of surfer's ear is prolonged exposure to cold water and cold air, making surfers and water sports enthusiasts particularly susceptible to surfer's ear. Cold water and wind exposure stimulate bone-producing cells in the ear canal, leading to the formation of bony growths.
People who are at increased risk for surfer's ear include:
Surfer's ear can lead to a number of complications, including:
If you have surfer's ear, it is important to be aware of these complications and to see a doctor or audiologist regularly to monitor your hearing.
Cochlear implants are electronic devices that can help people who are deaf or severely hard of hearing. Surfer's ear can make it difficult to receive a cochlear implant, but it is not impossible.
If you have surfer's ear and are considering a cochlear implant, it is important to talk to your doctor or audiologist. They can assess your individual situation and determine if a cochlear implant is right for you.
You should consider seeking the expertise of a specialist for surfer's ear when you encounter persistent symptoms, particularly if you experience recurrent ear infections, water trapped in your ears, or progressive hearing loss. Additionally, if you have concerns about your ear health, large or severe exostoses, or unusual symptoms, it's advisable to consult with an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist. This is especially important for individuals actively engaged in water activities, such as surfers or divers, who should consider regular check-ups with a specialist to monitor their ear health and prevent the progression of surfer's ear. Consulting a specialist ensures timely diagnosis, personalized care, and the best possible management of the condition.