Preliminary findings from a study carried out on several of the world’s best professional surfers by the Water Based Research Unit at Bond University show that 100% of high level surfers suffer from some level of auditory exostosis (aka Surfer’s Ear).
The likelihood of Surfer’s Ear drops slightly in recreational surfers, but it’s easy to conclude that as wetsuit technology continues to improve and people can surf in cold water for longer periods of time, ear infections and cases of Surfers Ear will continue to rise, leading to an increase in the need for medical attention and ear surgery to repair damage.
The Water Based Research Unit, comprising of Doctor Vini Simas, Associate Professor Mike Climstein, Professor Wayne Hing and Associate Professor Rodney Pope conducted a survey of 14 highly ranked professional surfers for a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia. They found that all but one had auditory exostosis in both ears, despite only one of them ever having been previously diagnosed. The remaining surfer had auditory exostosis in one ear. Do the math, and Surfer’s Ear didn’t miss a single tested surfer.
Whilst Surfer’s Ear is thought to be a cold water/cold air problem, the Water Based Research Unit have identified Surfer’s Ear is also a larger problem than they had anticipated in warmer climates.
After reading a clinical report on Ear discomfort in a competitive surfer, we asked Dr Simas and Professor Mike Climstein to provide us with a brief outline of the condition:
What is surfer’s ear?
It is an abnormal bony growth in the ear canal, known as exostosis. It is a benign, but irreversible condition.
What is the clinical presentation of surfer’s ear?
It is usually asymptomatic at early stages, but it can potentially lead to hearing loss, trapped wax, trapped water leading to more frequent ear infections.
What is the prevalence of surfer’s ear in surfers?
The prevalence of this condition in surfers, both professional and recreational, is 38–80% when investigated by otological examination. A study in Victoria reported that 78% of male surfers and 69% of female surfers had some degree of exostoses; a severe grade (i.e. Grade 3) was observed in more than 50% of the male surfers diagnosed. However, our recent study investigating injuries while surfing via an online survey identified only 3.5% of the participants reporting exostoses, and this is probably because the majority were unaware of the diagnosis.
Are children just as susceptible to surfer’s ear as adults?
It’s not an acute injury, it develops over time, however Dr Simas has identified surfers ear in surfers in their early 20’s.
What are the causes of surfer’s ear?
It’s believed that the cause is the combination of cold water/cold air, and it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism. However, Dr Simas has found a high incidence in Surfers in the Gold Coast which is a warm water/warm air environment.
What are the risk factors of surfer’s ear?
It’s exposure to the water/air, with the ear exposed to the prevalent wind at a greater risk.
How is surfer’s ear diagnosed? What sort of specialist should we be looking for?
It’s diagnosed via otoscopy, a simple examination that involves looking into the ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope. GPs can identify it easily, as every GP has an otoscope in their office.
What is the treatment of surfer’s ear?
Unfortunately, only surgery when its problematic
Is Surfers Ear preventable with products such as the SurfEars?
There are no studies at present to show the benefits of SurfEars, however, ear plugs or a hood (which is unrealistic in warm water) is the current recommended prevention strategy. Prevention strategies (such as ear plugs) should be started early, in all surfers and utilised during all aquatic sessions.
To read more, visit the Water Based Research Unit on Facebook
The Water Based Research Unit is NOW conducting a study for Gold Coast surfers where they are investigating the lifetime incidence of Surfer’s Ear. They are recruiting men over 50 years of age who have been surfing for at least 15 years to volunteer for their study (which has ethics approval). For more information, please contact Dr Vini Simas (Vini) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Continuing to focus their attention on Surfer’s Ear, Creatures of Leisure have developed a revolutionary product ‘SurfEars’ developed by Ear Labs, a team of professional designers and dedicated surfers in Sweden. SurfEars differentiates itself from other earplugs on the market by ensuring that hearing and balance aren’t affected.
Surfing legend Tom Carroll, a lifelong battler of exostosis, has worked closely with the product development team, and after undergoing long overdue surgery on both ears couldn’t be happier with the latest version of SurfEars. “My doctor took one look at the product and his face lit up with joy!” says two-time world champion Carroll. “Finally something he can issue to his never ending surgical roster of surfing patients, specifically designed to ensure the ability to hear and engage with others, while still protecting us from this extraordinary, natural protection response from our bodies. Thank you!”
SurfEars & Creatures of Leisure recently turned their attention toward young surfers and swimmers, with the development of JUNIORS. SurfEars JUNIORS is an ear plug developed for children, designed to keep their ears safe while being able to hear, speak and enjoy their in the water.