Editor’s Note: You can learn more basic first aid tips and tricks from the folks at Surf Aid Kit, who built a specialized safety kit every traveling wave-rider can use. Check out Surf Aid Kit on Instagram too.
I grew up hearing (pun intended) about things like surfer’s ear, earaches, ear infections, and swimmer’s ear, but it wasn’t until I first experienced my own ear problems that I decided to dig a little deeper and figure out which one was affecting me. Surfer’s ear and swimmer’s ear, in particular, are common issues for surfers that may seem like one-and-the-same, but their symptoms and treatments can actually be wildly different and learning how to recognize each can be a major advantage.
Surfer’s Ear Key Points:
– Surfer’s ear is a bone growth (exostosis) in the ear canal usually caused by repeated exposure to cold water and/or wind.
– This bone growth causes the ear canal to be narrowed, which means you are more likely to get an infection as it easily traps water.
– Water temperature around 20 °C (68 °F) stimulates bone growth, but when you add wind chill, you can be at risk in warmer water temperatures.
– This is also common in water sports like windsurfing, kayaking, open water swimming, diving, sailing, and kitesurfing (which a lot of surfers also do).
– The time it takes for surfer’s ear to develop varies from person to person and depends on how cold and exposed you are to the elements – and how often.
– It is very common! A lot of people get surfer’s ear but it doesn’t always develop to the same degree for everybody, meaning it’s barely noticeable for some.
-Many people notice they have surfer’s ear when they travel from colder climates to warmer climates and develop ear infections, as warmer waters can often have higher concentrations of bacteria.
– Exposure to cold water and wind. A combination of the two heightens the risk, as the wind creates a chill factor when your ears are wet.
– The extra bone growth is thought to be the body’s defense mechanism to protect the eardrum.
-However, that growth doesn’t go away. In fact, it continues to grow.
-The bone growth increases with lower temperatures and more frequent exposure.
– None in the early stages.
– As it develops, you may notice water getting stuck in you ear more often after a surf or an increase in infections.
– When surfer’s ear is severe, it can cause hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing sounds in the ear).
– Traveling from a cold water home to a warm water holiday and getting an ear infection is typically a good indicator you’ve been living with surfer’s ear.
– Surgery. When the bone growths cause symptoms that can no longer be tolerated, like repeated water trapping, infections, or trapping of debris in the ear canal, it’s time for surgery.
– A surgeon drills out the bone growth, which involves cutting and stitching the ear. This is followed by several weeks out of the water, or another option is a chiseling technique that requires no cuts and leaves a shorter recovery time. Either way, it sucks.
– Wear earplugs.
– Wear a hoodie or hat with ear flaps.
– Don’t surf in cold water frequently, if possible.
Swimmer’s Ear Key Points:
– Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal that runs from the eardrum to the outside of the head.
– It’s usually self-diagnosable, where the main symptoms are redness in the outer ear accompanied by warmth and pain.
– People may experience a feeling of “fullness” in the ear, hearing loss, itching, redness, or tenderness, and mucus/discharge.
– Just like any infection, it may spread deeper.
– Surfer’s ear is caused by water remaining in the ear after swimming or surfing.
– This creates a moist environment that helps bacteria or fungi grow, especially in warm, tropical places where there are more bacteria.
– Something getting stuck inside the ear, excessive ear cleaning, or contact with chemicals like hair dye or hairspray.
– Extra water removes ear wax, which is critical for stopping foreign bodies from getting into your ear.
-Use earplugs, a bathing cap, swimming cap, or wetsuit hood to keep water from getting in your ears.
– Use a towel to dry off your ears as soon as you’re out of the water.
– Try tilting your head or pulling the earlobe in different directions.
– Try holding a hairdryer on a low setting several inches from your ear until the ear feels dry.
– If you start getting problems (like consistent water in the ear), a doctor or physician can remove pus or drainage and make sure the infection isn’t causing another problem.
-If symptoms start to get worse, keep your ears dry.
Pro Tips for both:
– You could carry some Blu-tack in your Surf Aid Kit. I’ve used this multiple times.
– Avoid dirty, smelly river mouths that carry pollution and bacteria to the ocean.
This piece was presented by Surf Aid Kit