Surfer’s ear is caused by consistent exposure to cold water and is a progressive disease that slowly develops. It's caused by benign bone growth and is a common disease among those who spend a lot of time surfing.
Extra bone develops lumps inside the ear on the ear canal and can also develop due to windy conditions. The body attempts to protect the eardrum by causing the growth of new bone growth, which is known as exostosis. Unfortunately, the bone growth doesn't go away and can continue to grow over time.
If the condition isn't treated, it can lead to the full closure of the ear canal due to the blockage, resulting in being deaf. A lot of water can also become trapped by the exostoses growths, which often leads to infections, discomfort, and difficulty hearing.
In severe cases, 80 to 90 percent of the eardrum can become blocked.
What Does Surfer’s Ear Feel Like?
There are early symptoms that develop once surfer’s ear begins to form, which feels like minor hearing loss. Some people may have water that is trapped in the ear after spending time in the ocean. The ear canal can also start to reduce in size by half the more the problem progresses. A significant amount of pain can also start to develop, which is significant and distracting.
Aching is one of the most common symptoms associated with Surfer's Ear. It can be associated with the eardrum or canal feeling full. Aching is often a sign that irritation is present.
Over time, pus and discharge can start to leak out of the ear if the condition isn't treated in a timely manner.
Can Surfer’s Ear Cause Tinnitus?
Yes, when surfer’s ear progresses, it can gradually lead to tinnitus. Those who suffer from the condition can hear ringing in their ears, even in quiet settings. This is often due to the earwax becoming blocked by the bone growth as it accumulates in the ear canal.
Treating the condition is one of the best steps to take to reduce the effects of tinnitus. The problem can continue to get worse as Surfer’s ear slowly progresses.
Can Surfer’s Ear Cause Jaw Pain?
Many people who suffer from surfer’s ear also experience jaw pain because the nerves that are experiencing pain in the ear are associated with the nerves in the jaw. The jaw can begin to feel sore and achy, especially when you talk or chew food. The symptoms can become worse if you don't take the necessary steps to address surfer’s ear with a specialist.
You may also notice many of the lymph nodes on the neck become swollen, resulting in a fever at times. The skin can also become swollen on the area close to the ear, causing different sounds to become muffled. Fortunately, the hearing can immediately be restored once the issue is treated.
Can Surfer’s Ear Cause Vertigo
Vertigo is one of the many symptoms associated with surfer’s ear and can make it easy to feel dizzy. Surfers can often become disoriented while spending time in the water, putting their safety at risk. The dizziness can become more severe over time as the Surfer’s ear progresses, especially if you wait too long to treat it.
You may experience a spinning sensation and feel like you're losing your balance at times.
The vertigo will likely immediately dissipate once the surgery is performed to remove the excess bone in the ear canal.
How To Prevent Surfer's Ear
Although surfer’s ear is a common issue among those who spend a lot of time in the water, there are still ways to prevent it. It's important to keep the ears dry after spending time surfing or swimming.
Experts recommend wearing ear plugs that fit to wear as you spend time surfing. Look for ear plugs that are made specifically for your ear to prevent them from falling out. Local drugstores also sell putty that you can put near your ear canal to make it fit perfectly as you manipulate it.
Ear drops are also effective and help the ear canal thoroughly dry. Avoid using drops that contain alcohol, which is known for drying out the skin too much and can cause infections.
Drying out the water with a hairdryer is also an old trick that works well. Put the hairdryer on the lowest setting while moving it over the ear in a back and forth motion. Wearing a hoodie while spending time outside will also help to protect the ears from the wind.
How Is Surfer’s Ear Treated?
There are a few forms of treatment for surfer's ear, which include making an incision behind the ear to chisel through the bone to reach the ear canal. It's an outpatient procedure that doesn't come with a lot of discomfort. The most common type of treatment is chiseling through the bone directly in the ear, which is typically done under local anesthesia. A chisel is often used instead of a drill because the sound of the drill can irritate the eardrum. As technology has become more advanced, more oncologists are also using a laser to remove the bone growth. This can allow patients to recover quicker.
Most people are back to work within a few days after the surgery is performed.
Summary: Protect Your Ears
Wearing ear plugs once you return to the water is necessary, or you can expect the bone growth to return even faster. Most medical professionals will recommend waiting four weeks before you return to surfing.