Ear exostosis, the surfer’s ear

Ear canal exostosis is an abnormal growth of bone in the walls of the ear canal leading to a narrowing of its diameter to partial or complete closure in some cases.

This problem is relatively often referred to as surfer’s ear, diver’s ear or swimmer’s ear, as it occurs more frequently in athletes or fans of these sports. Repeated and prolonged contact with cold water is the cause of this ear canal problem.

Symptoms of ear canal exostosis

As a rule, ear exostosis is an asymptomatic problem, i.e. it does not cause any symptoms. However, in the event that the narrowing worsens, there may be a sensation of ear plugging. At first, this plugging will be similar to the one that people suffer after bathing, as if water had remained inside the ear. Later on, or in more severe cases, it may cause infection or otitis externa up to hypoacusis or deafness due to complete closure.

To diagnose ear canal exostosis, no great means are needed, since a simple otoscopy can be used to diagnose the existence -or not- of ear exostosis.

Ear canal exostosis: treatment

In terms of prevention, this has not been demonstrated, but it seems that if special ear plugs are used in the practitioners of these sports, the growth can be slowed down and, if exostosis has already appeared, it can be stopped and the complications of plugging and otitis described above can be prevented.

If the exostosis does not produce problems it can be controlled by the specialist and we advise periodic cleanings of the duct to prevent accumulation of earwax and plugging and infection. But if the exostosis is already producing symptoms it is advisable to intervene.

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The intervention of exostosis – known as canaloplasty – consists of removing these bone neoformations and leaving a sufficiently wide duct that does not cause problems. This intervention can be performed if the appropriate instruments and sufficient experience are available, through the auditory canal and without making incisions behind the ear. In this way the recovery is much faster, less uncomfortable and painful and the patient will be able to practice water sports in a very short time, in weeks.

For more information, consult a specialist in Otolaryngology.