11th September 2018

How to prevent 'surfer's ear'?


'Surfer's ear' affects your balance and enjoyment of surfing. Explore how to prevent ear infections and reduce 'surfer's ear' symptoms to get you back on board.

Nick Hounsfield

I’m sat here about to take off on a flight and sweating a little bit. I’m not a nervous traveller, not at all, but in recent years it has become a lottery of whether I will end up in excruciating pain. The reason… 'surfer's ear'.

As a small child I used to holiday on the beaches of Portreath in Cornwall. My dad used to take me out on his surfboard and push me into the seemingly crystal (and back then empty) waves of Cornwall.

However, I would most years end up with massive ear infections, swollen adenoids and conjunctivitis. Little did we know that we were surfing in primary sewage effluent… raw, untreated and riddled with nasty bugs.

From the age of 5 until this day, I have had horrendous ear infections, I am now almost deaf in my left ear. Thanks to environmental campaign groups like Surfers Against Sewage, this is not a problem my kids need to deal with.

Compounding this problem, I’ve spent most of my life surfing through winter. Its a brilliant time of year to surf.

The constant immersion in cold water has made my body do something very clever but very annoying. Bone has started to close up my ear canals. These bony growths (exostoses) are the body’s way of protecting the ear drum. This in turn means that water easily gets stuck in my ears and can blow up into an infection, often to the point of bursting my ear drums. Not pleasant.

Why am I telling this tale? I used to be a medical practitioner and I really want to make sure other people don’t suffer with the same problem. The only temporary treatment for 'surfer's ear' is to have an operation where they either chisel or drill the ear canals. This is not without risk of further damage and often the problem returns.

How to prevent Surfers Ear?

  • Wear ear plugs - They don’t need to be totally snug, or expensive, but they do need to keep the ear canal warm. It’s the cold water that makes the ears grow extra bone.
  • Wear a hood - This is a great way of further keeping the ear canals protected.
  • Don’t jab cotton buds in your ears - they are not great for your ears or the environment!

The key is to make sure you take these precautions before you get symptoms.

While my ears have never been great, I wish I’d known about surfer's ear prevention sooner.

At The Wave opens, we’ll be providing our winter surfers with plugs and hoods. It’s a sound decision.

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Our team of Wavemakers

Our first Wavemakers are our founders, Nick Hounsfield and Craig Stoddart. They are the people who have led The Wave’s pioneering and successful business from a pretty radical idea to the growing business it is today.