The Know-Your-Ears Project

The Project: Mobile Health meets Surfing Medicine

While traveling the mobilesurfdoc will look into the ears of surfers all over the world to find out if they have Surfer’s Ear and to find out how bad it is. The data is acquired outside of a hospital most of it on the beach using a mobile otoscope device which attaches to a smartphone. If you meet the mobilesurfdoc along the way you can be part of this project and find out what your ear canal looks like. Whether you are a surf pro or a weekend warrior: The mobilesurfdoc is interested in your ears. The beauty of this study is its random selection. Surfers worldwide are examined  in their natural environment. No waiting, no money and no obligations involved. It is a project to keep surfers healthy and to further science.


imageSurfer’s Ear (Exostosis)

Not many sports have diseases named after them. But surfing is special in many ways and it can rightfully claim that Surfer’s Ear is specific to this fine sport of ours (let’s forget about those few cold water swimmers and divers, shall we?). What happens is that the ear canal gets blocked by bone growth which is triggered by irritation through cold water and wind. So, your head is nicely surrounded by thick tissue and bone – except for the ear canal. It’s basically a highway leading straight inside your skull with only a piece of paper (the eardrum) protecting it. This is good to acquire information about what is happening around you (hearing) but it is not so good when cold water and wind cool down your brain. Maybe that’s why surfers are a bit more relaxed than others. But your body does not like to be cold. It gets pissed off and thinks: If this idiot keeps playing around in cold water I am going to make the ear canal smaller and smaller in order to stay warm until it is completely blocked.

Draft of right ear without Surfer’s Ear
Draft of right ear with exostosis (Surfer’s Ear, in red)

This is why wearing a hood or earplugs seems to be a good way to prevent Surfer’s Ear but most surfers don’t bother until they have symptoms. This is when the problems start.
Depending on where you live an operation can cost you several thousand Dollars and carries many risks like damage of your facial nerves, hearing loss, tinnitus etc. Plus, surgery will keep you out of the water for a while. And once your Surfer’s Ear has been operated it will grow back if you keep surfing in cold water without protection. In this case, prevention is actually a really good way to make your life better.

What does the Mobile Surf Doctor have to do with that?

I look into your ears because I am a good person and I want to help you? Almost. I look into your ears because I want to learn more about them. I love ears and even if I do not miss the hospital too much while traveling around the world I miss learning and becoming a better doctor. I want to be a good ENT specialist and I am doing this for my own education and to find out more about Surfer’s Ear. I will keep you updated on this blog. My goal is to publish the results of this study. If I can help fellow surfers along the way: awesome. Do I make money with it? Of course not. My wife finances me for the moment, so thank her if you meet us ;-).


Left: Right ear with beginning Surfer’s Ear at around 10 pm. Right: A beautiful example of circular bone growth of a left ear. If your ears looks like that you should consider wearing earplugs!

How does it work?

I will look into your ear canal, show you the image and tell you if you have Surfer’s Ear and how severe it is. You give me some information on your surfing history and if you want I can share the images with you. Free of charge.

Since I am not an ear specialist yet this is not a ENT doctor’s consultation. Look at it as advice between surfers. If you already have ear problems get an appointment. My exam does not replace consulting a specialist.

Why it is good for you as a surfer to be part of the project?

If I look into your ears and you have severe Surfer’s Ear once you see the image you might consider protecting yourself. If you do not have Surfer’s Ear and you have been surfing for 40 years in cold water you can just forget about the whole thing and worry about getting barreled instead. And by being part of this project you support science. Great, isn’t it?

The project is supported by Surfing Medicine International and I will present the project at the Pacific Rim Conference in fall 2016 in Monterey, California.

To give you an idea I posted a summary of the first 50 ears I’ve looked into here. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.

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