Usually during long-term trips abroad there is some kind of injury or illness to deal with from Bali belly to pink eye, we’ve experienced it all! Luckily, during our recent three month surf trip to Morocco, we didn’t encounter any issues, but one thing we’re always conscious of is… surfer’s ear! So I did a bit of research, and here’s what I figured out…
What is surfer’s ear?
The infamous condition that too often gets between surfers and their love of catching waves, surfer’s ear can leave you out of the water for weeks, if not months. Despite the name, it’s a risk to not just surfers but anyone that spends a lot of time in the sea – especially cold water surf. Here are the facts behind the causes, symptoms, and how to prevent surfer’s ear.
Causes and Symptoms
Surfer’s ear is an unusual condition, and one that is not fully understood by medical professionals. Symptoms occur when the outer ear is regularly exposed to cold water. A process known as ‘exostosis’ takes place whereby benign bone growth is stimulated within the ear. This leads to the eventual blockage of the ear canal. As the canal becomes narrower, it becomes more likely that bacteria and water will get trapped inside the ear.
Exostosis can begin to take place in the absence of any obvious symptoms, at least initially. While some casual surfers may naturally reduce the amount of time they spend in the sea before surfer’s ear becomes noticeable, the more hard core and persistent wave riders and swimmers won’t be so lucky. Seawater contains all kinds of dirt and bacteria, and once trapped these will lead to painful infections and discomfort. What’s more, the enlarged bone can impair hearing and even trigger tinnitus.
The good news is that surfer’s ear is treatable, although only through surgery. This involves a precise and relatively straightforward operation, but nevertheless one that has its risks. Any infection must be cleared first, either by waiting for it to subside naturally or through the administration of prescribed antibiotics. Following this, a surgeon will proceed to carefully drill or chisel the bone growth away. Chiselling has become the preferred method as the use of a drill can lead to tinnitus in some patients. Recovery periods vary between individuals but sadly there can be no avoiding an extended period out of the water.
All of this can be easily avoided through the use of one thing: a pair of custom made swim plugs. Today’s designs can be fashionable and balance comfort with practicality. Working very much like a wetsuit does with skin, any water that seeps through to your ear canal is kept at body temperature. This prevents exostosis and reduces the risk of bacteria entering the ear. Ultimately, if you’re spending a lot of time in the sea it doesn’t matter which method you choose to use – just remember to plug your ears. It really is as simple as that.
Getting active in the water is a lot of fun, not to mention being a fantastic form of exercise that contributes towards a healthy lifestyle. Be aware of surfer’s ear and just remember that while it isn’t dangerous it still poses a risk to your health that can result in unnecessary discomfort and inconvenience.
The experts at Leightons are on hand to deliver tailored treatment and advice for all aspects of eye and ear care. Get in touch today to book an appointment at your local branch.