To Swim or To Surf… Your Ears Want to Know!

To the beach or the pool, you ask? We say both, but take care of those ears!

There is a common misconception that Swimmer’s ear and Surfer’s ear are similar ailments, so we talked to Santa Cruz, CA family physician Hossein Hassani about dispelling that myth.

Swimmer’s ear, Hassani says, is an infection in the outer ear canal, most commonly caused when water is trapped in the external auditory canal, presenting a good medium for bacterial grow. This infection of the ear canal, otitis externa, is a common problem especially for children who spend a lot of time in the water.
Otitis Externa captured with the CellScope Oto

Otitis Externa captured with the CellScope Oto

Pain upon yawning or swallowing may indicate swimmer’s ear. If you gently wiggle the ear or press in front of the ear canal and the pain increases, there is a good chance there is an infection. Treat accordingly and avoid getting water in the ear until his treatment is done. To help prevent swimmer’s ear, after bathing or swimming, make sure to get all the water out of the ears by turning his head to each side,  dry gently with a towel, or use alcohol drops.
Hassani continues to explain that surfer’s ear, on the other hand, is excess cartilage growth in the external auditory canal due to prolonged exposure to cold water. Also referred to as exostosis or abnormal bone growth, it is most commonly seen in surfers who tend to spend hours in the ocean water. Irritation from cold wind and water exposure causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to develop new bony growth which constrict the ear canal. The ear canal is actually blocked by this condition, meaning that both water and wax can become trapped and give rise to infection.
Surfer's Ear taken with the CellScope Oto

Surfer’s Ear taken with the CellScope Oto

Surfer’s ear is a progressive condition, making it important to take preventative measures early, preferably whenever surfing. The condition is not limited to surfing and can occur in any activity with cold, wet, windy conditions (Kitesurfers, beware!).
Swimmers and surfers be warned, and take preventative measures and keep those ear canals as dry as possible. In case of an infection, consult your physician.

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