Surfer’s Ear

Surfer’s Ear

In this section we will actually address two conditions which can arise from time in the water, and which people can confuse…Surfers Ear and Swimmers Ear. They may sound the same, but they are quite different, with different symptoms and treatments.

The Gold Coast is renowned for sun, surf and sand, making both common conditions for those spending a lot of time in the water.

Watch a video of Dr Malouf operating on a surfer’s ear.

What is Surfers Ear?

Surfer’s ear, or exostoses as it’s known in the medical field, is a condition where the ear canal is slowly narrowed by new bone growth over a long period of time…which means it usually appears in older surfers. The new bone growth is stimulated by exposure to cold water and cold air and continued exposure to the elements can result in the ear canal completely closing over. What we see when we do an otoscopic examination are elevated lesions that protrude into the external auditory canal.

The bone growth is not dangerous and in many cases is symptom free, however due to the bone growing in lumps, water and dead skin can become trapped in the deep canal, resulting in ear infections and reduced hearing.

Signs and Symptoms of Surfer’s Ear

The most common signs of a person suffering from Surfer’s Ear include:

  • A temporary or ongoing decrease in hearing or hearing loss
  • An increase in ear infections
  • Pain
  • Difficulty removing water from the ear canal
  • The sensation of water in the ear
  • Blocked ears

What is Swimmers Ear?

Swimmers ear (also known as Tropical ear) is a condition that refers to recurrent episodes of infection in the external canal. Because this condition thrives in moisture, it is most often seen in swimmers, and in humid climates.

It is often a result of water trapping behind a build-up of wax and because the external ear canal is warm and dark, keeping the external canal moist is a great way to cause an infection.

Signs and Symptoms

These infections can present with acute pain, discharge and a blocked ear. When they are particularly nasty, they can cause extreme pain, a swelling in front of the ear and pain on chewing.

Treating Swimmers Ear

The most important part of treating this infection is removing any debris in the ear that may be harbouring bacteria and fungi. Using drops alone in this situation may cause temporary relief, but as soon as the ear is wet again, the infection recurs.
Removing debris under the microscope, rather than syringing (which adds more moisture to the ear) is the best way to ensure complete removal of this infective material.

Our Doctors will then prescribe antibiotic, or antifungal, preparations as required.
Some people because of the shape of their external canals, the amount of wax they produce, and the frequency with which they expose their ears to water, might need to return on a regular basis which will be tailored to their individual needs

Treating Surfer’s Ear

In most cases, a simple treatment plan is developed which includes a few visits to the Ear Clinic a year to ensure that wax or other debris is not blocking the canal. In more serious cases, surgical intervention may be required to widen the ear canal by having the excess bony lumps from the canal removed. Our Ear Doctors can arrange referral to an ENT surgeon for this delicate surgery.

Preventing Surfer’s Ear

To avoid developing surfer’s ear, plug your ears to protect them from water and wind. You can also use a product like Aqua Ear to dry the ear canal after swimming or after coming into contact with water. And you definitely should not have your ears syringed as this can compound any trapping in the deep canal.