After years of dealing with ear problems that have caused me to miss out on countless swells as well as magical days of diving on fish, I have learned a lot in the area of prevention and treatment of this issues.
So what are the main issues?
· Surfer’s Ear know as Exostosis
· Swimmers Ear or otitis externa
Often times these terms are used to describe the same condition, but they are very different. First, Surfer’s Ear or Exostosis is a condition involving bone growth in your outer ear canal. Exposure to cold water causes this development of bone growth which narrows the ear canal. With the ear canal narrowed, this causes water to get trapped in the ear canal resulting in chronic infections and depending on the severity of the narrowing, hearing loss. Why does this occur? To be honest, doctors aren't really sure why the cold stimulates the growth. There are some theories that suggest this is your bodies way for protecting itself from the cold. Either way, this condition is extremely annoying to deal with, and requires a disciplined routine in order to prevent it, and if you already have it, to treat it. We’ll get more into that is a little bit.
Swimmer’s ear is just simply an outer ear canal inflection cause by residual water left in the ear canal. The frequency at which these infections occur can be greatly increased by the individual having surfer’s ear. Besides surfer’s ear, residual wax debris can also play a big part in water being trapped in the ear canal which can result in an infection due to bacteria or fugal growth. This leads me to my next discussion point.
Types of Infections and treatment: Bacteria vs Fugal Inflections
The two infections are very different and require different approaches to treat. Bacteria inflections in your ears are caused my bad bacteria growth from the moist environment mentioned above. Pain, feeling of fullness, discharge, or loss of hearing can all be symptoms related to a bacterial infection. These inflections can be cleared up in a week or two using antibiotic drops you can get from your doctor. Fugal inflections require more attention and care. Fugal inflections are caused by fugus growth in your ear canal due to the moist humid environment. You may notice that your ears itch, become inflamed and can have smelly discharge due to these infections. The infections can last for weeks, and can actually get worse if you use antibiotic drops to treat them.
Personally, I have dealt with fungal infections in my own ears. For me, the extreme itching was the dead giveaway that I had a fungal infection instead of a bacterial one. Before that I tried using regular antibiotic drops when I noticed irritation in my ear, but it seemed to just get worse over time. Finally, I just took some athlete’s foot cream and put it in my ear canal. The irritation subsided within a few days. I recommend liquid these antifungal drops or a solution of 50/50 alcohol and vinegar. The alcohol dries the ear canal while the vinegar keeps the acidity high in order to stop fungal growth. In order to prevent these issues while traveling, I bring anti-fungal drops as well as my 50/50 alcohol/vinegar solution every time I go anywhere just in case.
Warning: If you do have an infection in your ear, alcohol can cause extreme pain like if someone was stabbing you in your ear. If you have pain. STOP and see your doctor.
How to prevent these issues from even starting?
· Wear a hood when diving or surfing in cold or cool water.
· Put 50/50 alcohol and vinegar Solution in your ears after every surf or dive
· Wear earplugs when surfing
· At the first sign of inflection, keep ears canal dry and begin drops
Preventing these ear problems requires you to be consistent and religiously with your ear care. First, minimize your ear canal’s exposure to cold water. Seriously, this will greatly benefit you in 10 or 20 years. You can do this by wearing a hood or ear plugs when you are able to in cold water. Here are a few different types of ear plugs I would recommend.
Second, after spending time in the water use the alcohol/vinegar ear drops after every use because it doesn’t take long for bacteria or fungi to start to grow in a moist ear canal. Lastly, once I suspect that an infection is starting, I immediately began putting ear drops in my ears and stay out of the water for a couple of days. This quick action helps to minimize the time out of the water.
I really hope this clears up ear issues and helps you to prevent them in the future! If you have anything that you have found to be helpful that I haven't mentioned, please feel free to share it in the comment section.