I have Surfer’s Ear, what should I do?

So, I checked out your ears, showed you a video of your ear canal and said you had Surfer’s Ear. What now?

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Looks like a scene from a horror movie. You just wanted to get some waves and then you met this whacky doctor who says you’ve got Surfer’s Ear! AAAh! Run!

First of all, relax. Surfer’s Ear is not dangerous. It is not a disease, it is a condition. In other words: an anatomical special feature. But it might cost you a few surf sessions in the future. This is what I am concerned about as your surfdoc and this is why Surfing Medicine International supports this project. Here’s a summary of what you can do so you won’t have to miss any time in the water due to ear problems:

Protect yourself:

Depending on how severe your Surfer’s Ear is and how old you are you should consider wearing ear plugs and/or a hood. If you keep surfing in cold water the bone will keep growing. And if you surf in dirty water you will get infections way easier than surfers without Surfer’s Ear. So, get surgery and be done with it once and for all? Nope, sorry. Surgery is no easy solution since once the bone has been drilled or chipped away it will grow back if you don’t protect your ears in the water. A post about the operation will follow, so far keep in mind: No (or minor) problems with your ears = no operation.

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This is an impressive image of severe Surfer’s Ear, you can’t even see the eardrum. But this does not mean it has to be operated! If you don’t have any symptoms like in this case don’t get surgery!
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This grommet of a Surfer’s Ear (left upper corner, between 10 and 11 o’clock) will not give you any trouble. The eardrum is clearly visiblyIf this is all you have just forget about it!

With the current knowledge about Surfer’s Ear these are the advantages and disadvantages of earplugs and a hood:

Ear plugs: I do not sell any. So I have no interest in talking you into wearing them. Except for the fact that they seem to do a great job:

  • Good wind protection
  • Good protection from cold water
  • No major change of your looks
  • Injury protection (Owen Wright busted his eardrum in competition 2007 in Portugal, Sally Fitzgibbons 2015 in Fiji)

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Many surfers choose not to wear them. Because no matter which brand you buy: You have to remember to bring them, put them in, take them out, not loose them, clean them every once in a while. It is a pain. And with many of them your hearing is impaired. People feel disconnected from their environment and many surfers say it affects their equilibrium. For the good ones that feature a membrane and promise less hearing impairment you have to pay around 60 Dollars, check out Doc’s Proplugs / Surfears or EQ Ear Plugs for good quality. Loosing them is pretty annoying. For cheap ones that will keep the water out just as good but the sound as  go to Home Depot or a drugstore.

Neoprene Hood:

  • Good wind protection
  • Keeps the whole head warm
  • Injury protection
  • Sun protection for your eyes and face
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Yes, hoods look stupid. If you deny it you only make it worst.

Why nobody wears them unless it is freezing? Probably because of the Kook-Look. Yes, even Julian Wilson doesn’t seem that pretty anymore with a hood on. People might drop in on you. From a medical point of view I think they protect you better against Surfer’s Ear than ear plugs because they keep the whole head warm. Let’s see if the data I am collecting supports this theory.  A famous hood wearing surfer is Dr. Renneker from Ocean Beach California. He usually wears two hoods (a thin short one and a normal one with a neck part) and is probably the only surfer who spent over 40 Years surfing cold water and does not have Surfer’s Ear!

Helmets with wind protection: I know they are out there but I have not tried them. As soon as I have you will find it here.

Care:
Ear plugs and hoods are not your thing? There is still something you can do. Just like some people have drier skin than others and use lotion to take care of it, every person’s ear canal hat a different anatomy and you should look after it.

Glycerol/Alcohol (swimmer’s ear drops): Most common is the mixture with glycerol and ethanol. It fits well into the natural environment of your ear canal, especially the ph level. Depending on the country you can get the drops in drugstores, supermarkets and pharmacies. Some pharmacists can even mix them themselves. You can put a couple of drops in your ears after every surf especially when the water is dirty. They might not delay the growth of the bone but they will certainly avoid infections and blockage of your ear canal. If you do not like them (some people say they sting) talk to your pharmacist. There are other options.

Hydrogen peroxide/ agua oxigenada/ h2o2: This solution is easy to buy all over the world. And it is not bad to clean your ears either. However,  it is more aggressive than the drops mentioned above. Most important is that you never use a mixture with more than 3% H2O2 and if your ear canal is sensitive it is better to use other drops and to dry your ear gently (for example with a blow-dryer). So if your ear is fully blocked or you surf really dirty water once a month this is a great option. If you need to use drops several times a week use the drops above.

Blow-dryer:
You have water stuck in your ear and you can not get it out? This is not only irritating. Bacteria love it when it is moist, the odds to get an ear infection increase. Take a blow-dryer to get rid of the water in your ear canal. It is a simple and effective solution, you will feel the difference. Just don’t hold it too close to your ear and don’t take an extra hot one.

Other things surfers do:

Vinegar: I met quite a few surfers who put vinegar in their ears to clean them. This is ok you will not destroy your eardrum doing it once. But honestly, your ears deserve better. So the drops from above are better.

Pure alcohol: Alcohol is another effective fluid against germs but not the best care for your eardrum. It is a sensitive region and even if there are not enough vessels in your ear canal to get you drunk pure alcohol is too aggressive for this part of your body.

Oil: Olive oil is a cure for everything? Not quite. Due to Surfer’s Ear your ear canal is very tight. It will be harder to get the olive oil out of there than the sea water. I am not saying it harms you. It might even have a good effect if you put some drops of oil in your ear before the surf since a fatty surface rejects water. But good luck getting it back out. Olive oil can be put to one very good use (besides in the kitchen): to get insects out of your ear. Sometimes small insects get trapped in the canal. If you pour olive oil in your ear canal they will drown and slide right out.

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