This topic provides information about Exostosis.
What is exostosis?
Exostosis, commonly called Surfer’s Ear, is an abnormal growth of bone in the ear canal. This is not to be confused with Swimmer’s Ear, which is an infection of the ear canal.
The normal diameter of an ear canal is about 5-8mm. With exostosis, the bone in the ear canal thickens and develops lumps, causing the ear canal to narrow. Once the ear canal is narrowed, wax (cerumen), water, or debris can get trapped in the ear canal causing fullness of the ear and temporary hearing loss.
What causes Exostosis?
Exostosis is caused by prolonged exposure to cold water or cold windy conditions, such as when surfing, skiing, wind-surfing, swimming, etc.
You have a greater chance of getting exostosis if you are a male in the mid-to-late 30s who has been consistently exposed to cold water or wind.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of exostosis include:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Increased prevalence of ear infections or ear pain
- Difficulty clearing water from the ear after swimming
How is exostosis diagnosed?
Exostosis is diagnosed by your physician simply looking in your ear with an otoscope. The severity of the exostosis can be determined by visually evaluating how narrow the ear canal has become.
How is it treated?
Exostosis is a preventable condition. For people who are at risk for exostosis, ear plugs can be worn when in water or wind. Generic wax ear plugs can be purchased at a local pharmacy or custom swim ear plugs can be made by an Audiologist.
If exostosis has already developed, it is irreversible once formed. Surgery to remove the exostosis may be necessary when it has progressed to the point where it is causing persistent ear infections or to where the ear canal has narrowed significantly to cause a conductive hearing loss.
Surgery for exostosis is done by an Otologist and involves using a surgical drill to remove the bony growths from the ear canal. Water must be kept out of the ear for a 2-8 week time period following surgery.
Does exostosis cause lasting problems?
If the exostosis has developed to the point where it has narrowed the ear canal significantly, a conductive hearing loss will occur.