Surf’s Up. Are Your Ears at Risk?


Summer is here, and surf’s up. From coast to coast, when school is out, that means more time to spend on the water, and more daylight to take advantage of. Unfortunately, big surf in most places also means cold water, which when exposed to repeatedly, can cause lasting damage to your ears. Exostosis, commonly known as “Surfer’s Ear” is a common condition for surfers and others who spend long periods of time in cold water.

What is Surfer’s Ear? Is it like Swimmer’s Ear?

Exostosis, also known as Surfer’s Ear, happens when bones within your ear canal develop many small growths. Frequent exposure to cold water and wind stimulates that growth, which is why it’s very common in surfers, and also occurs in kayakers, skiers, divers, and anyone else who spends a lot of time in or near cold water. These growths build up over time and can lead to a complete blockage of the ear canal. This condition is different from Swimmer’s Ear, which is an infection caused by waterborne bacteria, more commonly found frequent pool-goers.

How do I know if I have it?

Surfer’s Ear is most common in veteran surfers, as it can take up to ten years of surfing or 3,000 hours on the water to develop this condition. However, for lifelong surfers and water enthusiasts, that much time on the water is easy to accrue. Symptoms typically include wax build ups in the ear canal, headache, earaches, and painful ear infections.

Is it really that big of a deal?

Though this condition takes a long time to develop, if not addressed it can be very painful. It can lead to ear infections, hearing loss, and if the abnormal growth continues for long enough, complete blockage of the ear canal. To remove the growth from inside the ears, it often requires surgery to fix and lots of time spent out of the water to recover.

I’m not staying out of the water. Can I keep surfing but prevent this condition?

The easiest way to keep cold water out of your ears is to avoid the cold water. However, if Surfer’s Ear is on your radar, you’re probably long committed to a lifestyle on the water, and cold temperatures don’t deter you in the slightest. Some preventative measures include:

Earplugs: Earplugs can help to keep water out of your inner ears while surfing. A sturdy pair of earplugs will prohibit cold water from entering your ear canals and will prevent the painful, abnormal bone growth that many surfers suffer from.

Neoprene hoods: Some surfers opt for neoprene hoods when surfing in cold waters. These keep the wind out and keep your ears dry for the most part. They can also contribute to your overall body warmth while on the water.

Post-surfing ear care: Some surfers don’t think neoprene hoods are worth it, and other don’t like earplugs because they can limit their hearing and throw off their balance. If neither of those options works for you, post-surfing ear care is a great solution. How do you get water out of your ears? Towel drying your ears when you get back to land is a good start, and using products like the acQuaMD will help get water out of your inner ear, so residual cold water doesn’t stay in there after surfing.

There’s no feeling like paddling out into the break and riding perfect sets for hours. But for lifelong surfers and water enthusiasts alike, it’s important to maintain your health so you can stay in the water for years to come. To find out more about solutions to keep water out of your ears, visit our website today!

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