Repeated exposure to cold wind and water may cause an abnormal growth of bone within the ear canal. This is called exostosis.
The medical term for this bone growth is Exostosis, but it is more commonly referred to as surfer's ear. This term is due to the fact that the most common cause of Exostosis / surfer's ear is frequent exposure to cold wind and water, making this a condition that often affects surfers - mostly those who surf in cold water. But it is not only surfers who may suffer from Exostosis / surfer's ear. Also people who enjoy skiing, kayaking, fishing, sailing, diving or any other sport, where the ears are exposed to cold wind and water can get Exostosis / surfer's ear.
Ongoing exposure to cold wind and water causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to grow to protect the ear drum against the harsh elements. Exostosis / surfer's ear is not necessarily harmful by itself, but constriction of the ear canal makes it difficult to drain water and ear wax and other debris can get trapped within the ear canal, which may lead to painful and repeated ear infections. These ongoing infections can result in permanent hearing loss.
If Exostosis / surfer's ear is not treated, the bone growth can evolve to a complete blockage of the ear canal.
There are two different surgical approaches to remove the bone. One approach to cure exostosis / surfer's ear uses a small incision behind the ear and the bone growth is removed by means of a surgical drill, while the other approach to cure exostosis removes the bone by using a drill inside of the ear canal itself. After the surgery the patient must avoid cold wind and water for about 2-6 weeks.
Continuing unprotected exposure of ear canals to cold water and wind after the treatment can lead to a re-growth of the bone.
Protection of exostosis / surfer's ear
The widespread use of wetsuits has allowed people to surf in much colder waters, which makes protection of the ears extremely important. Earplugs, hoods and other cold weather surfing gear can be used to prevent exostosis.
Source: www.pressofatlanticcity.com, www.californiaearinstitute.com; en.wikipedia.org
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