Surfer's ear is a common cause of deafness among people who surf. Years of cold wind and water on the ears leads to narrowing of the ear canals. The medical name for this is cranial exostosis. Bony lumps gradually grow, reducing the size of the channel for sound to enter. Frequent ear infections are common as debris builds up in the canal and remains wet for longer after being in the sea or shower. This creates an ideal breeding ground for bugs. Once the narrowing has occurred the only way out is surgery. A surgeon injects local anaesthetic into your ear then uses a chisel or drill to remove the extra bone which has formed. This is painful but it doesn't prevent the bony lumps growing again if precautions aren't taken.
Over the years only a few studies have been performed into this condition. ZenPlugs wanted to find out what surfers had to do to protect themselves. It is common knowledge that ear plugs can help prevent the problem but most surfers don't know that they need to wear a neoprene cap as well. ZenPlugs wanted to find out how much difference wearing both of these together makes. They sent a survey round via social media and a hospital mailing list and received 203 replies. The results were rather surprising. They showed that 60% of those who had spent 10 years surfing regularly without ear protection knew that they had the condition. The real number with the problem will be much higher than this because it usually goes unnoticed in the early stages.
The research showed that wearing a surfer's cap and plugs more than 90% of the time prevented surfer's ear. Without them almost everybody surveyed developed the problem after years of surfing. The more years they had surfed the more likely they were to go deaf.
The reason the cap is required is because, like the ear canal, if the bone behind the ear gets cold it can cause the bony lumps to form. The lump is called the mastoid bone and it is full of air cells which communicate with the middle ear air space. Neoprene is an excellent insulator and the cap also helps to keep your plugs in your ears if you are hit by a massive wave. With molded plugs you can also tie the cord onto your wet-suit zipper so you can find them easily.
Summary. If you surf regularly and want to protect your hearing you need to wear a surfing cap and surfing ear plugs.
Dr Toby Bateson