Surfer’s ear is a common cause of deafness among young people. Many surfers have heard of it but unfortunately most do not take adequate precautions to prevent it. It is widely known that using earplugs for surfing can prevent the problem. Unfortunately most do not know that a surfer’s cap is also necessary to keep the condition at bay.

Recent research from ZenPlugs has shown that a certain group of surfers of 17 times more likely to go deaf. So what are they doing wrong?

Surfer’s ear occurs due to an overgrowth of the bone around the opening to the ear canal. This happens in response to the cooling of the ear by the wind and water. The process and it’s prevention are poorly understood as little research has been performed in this area.

ZenPlugs found their group by using social media. They also emailed the workers at Treliske hospital in Truro to find themselves a number of surfers who would be happy to take part in the research. 203 people filled in the questionnaire.

Surprisingly 60% of people who had been surfing for 10 years or more were already aware that they had the condition. It is likely that the actual number within the group is higher than this as many people may have the condition but have not had it diagnosed. Most of the people in the group surfed in and around Cornwall. Other research has shown that surfer’s ear is less likely when surfing in warm waters. It does still occur due to the cooling effect of the evaporation of seawater from the ear. The evaporation and the cooling are sped up by wind.

The survey showed that people who wear a surfing cap as well as earplugs are 17 times less likely to get surfer’s ear. The small group who wore both of these more than 90% of the time did not get the problem at all, despite surfing for many years.  Conversely, most of the people who did not wear them ended up with the condition. The evidence also showed that the longer people had been surfing, the higher the chance of the problem emerging. It is interesting to note that some of the group never developed the affliction despite not taking any precautions. No cause for this was found but it is likely that they have some resistance. It is possible that there anatomy is different; narrow hairy ear canals may offer some protection. There is no evidence to support this.

Summary. When are you surfing wear earplugs regularly if you don’t want to go deaf. This makes you 17 times less likely to lose your hearing.

Dr Toby Bateson