Exostosis, also known as surfer’s ear, is the term for an abnormal growth of bone within the ear canal. While a common affliction for avid surfers, surfer’s ear can affect anyone who is exposed to cold, wet and windy conditions.
Exposure to cold air and water can cause the bone surrounding the ear canal to thicken and bony growths to develop. While the bone growths themselves are not harmful, if the bone thickens too much the ear canal can become completely blocked, which would lead to hearing loss. Due to the slow progression of bone growths, this condition typically does not appear until your 30s or 40s.
A decrease in hearing sensitivity and an increase in ear infections are the common symptoms associated with surfer’s ear. Since the ear canal has become smaller, water, earwax and debris can easily become trapped, which can lead to an increase in ear infections.
The only treatment option for surfer’s ear is surgery to remove the boney growths causing the obstruction. A drill is used to remove the bone; depending on the location of the growths the drill can either be inserted through the ear canal or through an incision made behind the ear. After the surgery is completed, it is important to avoid any cold water activities for two to six weeks in order to prevent any infections.
The best defense for surfer’s ear is early prevention. While avoiding all cold water activities is ideal, if that cannot be done, using proper ear protection can help as well. Waterproof earplugs either store-bought or custom-made at Ear, Nose & Throat Associates (Hillsboro) can help keep your ears as warm and dry as possible. A hood and a swim cap should also be worn.