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Surfer's Ear: Exostosis

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Definition: What is “Surfer’s Ear?”

Although this surfing ailment is commonly referred to as Surfer's Ear, the medical term is actually exostosis (which really means abnormal bone growth) within the ear canal. Similar to pterygia, surfer's ear is your body's reactions and protective mechanisms in response to the ocean's extreme conditions. Extended exposure to cold wind and cold water can result in abnormal bone growth that narrows the ear canal with the possibility of complete blockage. This condition is called “surfer’s ear” due to its prevalence among cold water surfers in areas like Northern California and other cold climates, but exostosis is not surfing specific. Divers and kayakers are also vulnerable to exostosis.

Symptoms of “Surfer’s Ear”

If the abnormal bone growth blocks most of the ear canal, symptoms may include infections causing earaches and eventually hearing loss.

Treatment of “Surfer’s Ear”

Surgical removal of exostosis is often successful, and there are a series of options in surgical techniques. Some are more invasive than others. Earplugs and neoprene hoods can help keep the cold water from reaching the eardrum, and thus prevent or slow the growth of the exostosis. For more information and even a video of the surgery, check out the Shoet Ear Associates website.

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