Surfers Ear – the preventable ear condition for those that love to be in the water

As we enter spring and the weather is starting to warm up, many of us are dusting off our wetsuits and swimsuits and getting ready to get back into the open water (if you’re among those that enjoy being in the water all year round, hats off to you!). Whether you’re a swimmer, surfer, or water sport enthusiast, protecting your ears when on and in the water is a must. We’ve asked Audiologist Vincent Howard to write a guest blog post about Surfers Ear, which is a common problem in surfers as a result of not protecting their ears from water. Read on to find out more…

A lot of things we do in life negatively affect our ear health, which is almost never regarded as equal to our eyes or teeth.

And most of the time, water is the culprit.

Submerging the head and ears in water – be it in the bath, shower, swimming pool, sea or in a lake or river – floods the external auditory canal. By way of protection, the body reacts by turning wax production levels up to full capacity.

Human wax, which is actually an oily substance called cerumen, is healthy in small quantities. However, too much of it can cause partial hearing loss, pain, tinnitus, dizzy spells and infections. And if wax is already present upon submersion, then it will absorb it and expand with the water. Alternatively, the water gets stuck behind a clump of wax beyond the second bend of your ear canal resulting in temporary hearing loss – and, unfortunately, whilst you can blow your nose, you can’t blow your ears!

The barrier method is the most effective way to protect your ears from water – and from noise too.

Repeated exposure to cold air or water is likely to cause the ear to start to close up. The term is ‘Exostosis’ or ‘Surfers Ear’. In the bony portion of the canal, small lumps begin to grow as defence against the water or cold air in the ears.

Surfers Ear – bony growths in the ear canal

Although sailors and cyclists also get it, the phenomenon is most common amongst surfers – hence the name. The common ingredients are wind and water – water in the ear canals and wind blowing past. This causes a refrigeration effect within the ear canal and the body’s response is to pump oxygenated blood into the canal. It’s this oxygenated blood that causes the bony structure around the ear canal to thicken and grow, which will start to constrict and eventually close up the canal. The process takes a while, but the more time you spend in the water the quicker it will happen.

Surfers Ear is aptly named as it is a common problem for surfers

The only way to protect yourself is to block the ear, preferably with custom-made swim plugs – because ear canals truly come in so many different shapes and sizes! Traditionally, custom-made swim plugs were solid. A solid plug works a treat to block the water but isolates the wearer from their surroundings often resulting in the removal of the plug for the purpose of hearing something or listening to someone. The removal of the plug in such circumstances immediately defeats the object of wearing it in the first place.

However, with the latest innovation from Snugs, there is now an option to impregnate a filter that allows sound waves (but not water) to penetrate the ear canal. Hence the name: the awareness filter. This means that you get full protection from the water – and therefore from exostosis – whilst also being able to enjoy your outdoor experience to the full. Top marks to Snugs for their ingenuity!

Guest Author:

Mr Vincent Howard, Co-Founder and director of Audiology, Hearology, (Love your ears)

SnugsAqua with awareness filter

You can read more and order SnugsAqua swim and surf earplugs here. There is a choice of solid swim plugs or with awareness filter, depending on your preference. Snugs have a number of ambassadors who use SnugsAqua including Sarah Jackson, professional windsurfer and instructor. Sarah came to us as she had been told by ENT specialists that unless she started using earplugs, she would need to have surgery further down the road. Since using her Snugs, the condition of her ears have not deteriorated and she can continue to enjoy doing what she loves, safe in the knowledge her ears are being protected in the process.

“The SnugsAqua (Protect) with awareness filter is amazing for being able to still have a conversation on the water, so I don’t have to keep taking my plugs in and out. It’s just like normal but I know I’m protecting my ears at the same time so it’s the best of both worlds!”

Sarah Jackson, Professional windsurfer and instructor
Sarah Jackson windsurfing with her SnugsAqua with awareness filter