Surfer’s Ear is a condition that develops slowly, usually over decades.

If not stoped or slowed down can lead to severe problems like hearing loss or reoccurring ear infections. Or it can be just annoying by trapping more water in your ear canals more often.

Surfer’s Ear is a narrowing of your ear canal (“auditory canal”) caused by bone growth of you skull.

This extra bone growth, also called exostosis (or “bony exostosis”) is caused when your ear canal is exposed to cold water. Even more than just cold water, in combination with wind creating a chill factor, this can really speed up bone growth.
In short:

Cold water & wind → cold ear canal → bone growth → narrowing of the ear canal → Surfer’s Ear

The problem is that once your bone has grown, it doesn’t shrink anymore when your ears get warm again. Surfer’s ear won’t ever disappear — but you can slow it down, or avoid it in the first place.

It is called Surfer’s Ear, because it is common among surfers. As surfers we are frequently exposed to water, wind and (depending on where and when you surf) cold conditions. Yes, also swimmers, triathletes, windsurfers or kiters can get it.

So, cold, water and wind, that’s it?
Not quite. How bad it gets varies from person to person as your genes also have a role in this. So, sometimes people seem to be more prone to develop Surfer’s Ear than others, even if the had the same water+wind+cold exposure. Thank your parents. 😉

Answered by M. von Grote, MD and M. Goettinger, MD

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