Exostosis of the ear canal, or “Surfer’s ear,” are benign bony growths in the ear canal associated with exposure to cold water and wind.  Water colder than 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit has been shown to stimulate this abnormal bone growth. These growths can make people more prone to ear infections and wax buildup. They can cause hearing loss if they grow large and prevent sound from traveling to the inner ear.

It is a good idea to have a comprehensive audiological evaluation if exostoses are noted on a medical exam.  It is important to protect ears from cold water; options include non-custom earplugs and custom earplugs.  Inexpensive wax earplugs can be purchased at any drugstore; however, they have some safety considerations as they will also block sound.  You can find at some local surf stores non-custom molds that allow sound to enter through the mold while preventing water from entering the ear canal at some local surf stores.

The fit and effectiveness of non-custom molds depend on the shape of an individual’s ear canal. If water continues to enter the ear canal with these options, custom surf/swim earplugs can be made with a mold of the ear for a better fit. Custom earplugs will enable sound to enter normally so surfers and swimmers can communicate while keeping water out of their ears.  

If you are in need of custom surf/swim ear molds, please contact Outer Banks Ear, Nose & Throat to make an appointment with Krista Follmer, AuD, Audiologist, at 252-449-5760. For more information, please visit their location page.

Reference: Wong BJF, Cervantes W, Doyle KJ, Karamzadeh AM, Boys P, Brauel G, Mushtaq E. Prevalence of External Auditory Canal Exostoses in Surfers. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999;125(9):969-972.

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