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11 Sep

How to prevent surfer’s ear?

by The Wave Team

Man enjoying surfing during winter at The Wave in Bristol

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.

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 as to 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 and 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.

But I’ve compounded my problem by spending most of my life surfing through winter. Its a brilliant time of year to surf, but it's cold.

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 trapped 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. Apart from treating painful infections, the main treatment for surfer's ear is to have an operation where the bony growths are either chiselled or drilled out of the ear canals. This is not without risk of further damage and often the problem will return.

How to prevent Surfer's 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.

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