Kelly Slater Surfers Ear

Oh, the frustration. Photo: WSL

The Inertia

Surfer’s ear. What is it exactly? Surfer’s ear, also known as exostosis, is an abnormal bone growth within the ear canal. It’s primarily caused by repeated exposure to the cold wind and water (although it can still affect surfers who surf in warm water). Cold temperatures cause the ear canal to develop growths of bone that blocks the ear canal and eardrum, resulting in a number of symptoms, including pain, hearing loss, and infection.

In February of 2015 I finally decided that enough was enough, and took the steps to get ear surgery to correct the problem I had been suffering for so long. My hearing had been severely limited for quite some time. My left ear was 85 percent blocked and the right ear was 99 percent blocked. Right before I turned to surgery, I was experiencing vertigo, major ear infections, and severe head pressure. I pretty much had only 10 percent of my hearing and was not feeling well.

I reached out on Facebook to learn more information and find the best doctors. Immediately, responses from fellow surfers poured in from around the globe. The advice was to stay away from the drill method and find a doctor who used the micro chisel method. Also, several people recommended Dr. Douglas Hetzler in Santa Cruz, California, as he was the doctor who had pioneered the chisel method. Apparently, the drilling method is more invasive with longer downtime, and can result in a higher risk of infection. The chisel method, however, would take approximately four weeks of downtime, was less invasive, and less painful method overall.

After some deliberation, I opted to go with Dr. Hetzler. On surgery day, the operation itself lasted only an hour or two. Dr. Hetzler made sure to give me a souvenir: the bones that he had chiseled out of each of my ears and a pictures of my ear canals before and after.

Before (left) and after (right) of the left ear canal. You can now clearly see the ear drum.

Before (left) and after (right) of the left ear canal. You can now clearly see the ear drum after surgery.

It was amazing to see the bones that had been growing in my ears—the culprit of my hearing loss. After the surgery I never experienced any major pain, and only took Tylenol for pain relief. My ears were packed with gauze due to a small amount of bleeding from the procedure. The only post-care that I needed was with a doctor in my hometown who would give me ointments and check the progress of my healing. While some doctors did not want to see me because they had not actually performed the surgery, Dr. Ian Murton in Atascadero agreed to help me with aftercare, and was very interested in checking out the results of Dr. Hetzler’s work, as his technique was so progressive.

Long story short, I healed up very well. I was back to work just three days after the surgery. All of the symptoms of vertigo and pressure are gone. I can hear much better now. And fortunately for me, I was back in the water just four weeks after the procedure. However, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. I now use ear plugs every time I’m in the water. If you don’t wear the earplugs after this procedure, the bone growth can come back, apparently faster than before. Learn from me, folks. Wear your earplugs.


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