You might have already heard about surfer’s ear and think it’s not a big deal. As someone who has had it for many years now, I am telling you it’s definitely something to think about even from your first time surfing!
With that in mind, in this post I’m going to explain to you what surfer’s ear is. Along with why surfers wear earplugs, what you can do to prevent it, and many other aspects around this topic.
I’ll make it as clear and easy to follow as possible, so you don’t need to get scared. You can do everything that you need to do, to stay safe and healthy when you go out into the surf.
Why do surfers wear earplugs?
Surfers wear earplugs to prevent surfer’s ear. The earplugs stop water getting into the ear canal, which is the main cause of surfer’s ear or ‘exostosis’. It is purely for this reason and for no other.
It’s worth noting that surfers should always wear earplugs in colder water, as the colder water has a stronger impact on surfer’s ear and this condition.
This was the advice I got from the hearing specialise whom I saw when I was getting the earplugs you can see in the photo above made.
What is surfer’s ear?
Surfer’s ear is a condition where bone grows on top of bone in the ear canal which happens over a period of time being exposed to water. The medical name is exostosis, it can also happen to swimmers so it is also called swimmer’s ear.
Specialists have told me that it’s even worse in cold water because your body reacts more to cold water. You need to be aware of this if you are a cold water surfer.
Essentially, surfer’s ear is the reaction to water flushing into your ears all the time. Your body tries to block it out, causing this bone growth but has the unintended consequence of narrowing your ear canal.
This bone growth can be painful and it can also cause problems with things like overproduction of ear wax. The ear wax can then get blocked because it can’t get out behind the bony growths within the ear canal.
Your ear also overproduces wax, to try and overcompensate for this problem as well. It’s not a nice problem, but it happens to many surfers.
However, it only happens over a long time. If you start wearing earplugs early on, you will not have this problem, and you can prevent it almost entirely.
How can exostosis or surfer’s ear be prevented?
Wearing earplugs every time you go in the surf is the only way to do this. This sounds simple, but it is effective, because it stops that shock of cold water getting into your ear canal, which is the catalyst for surfer’s ear.
There really is no other option, so wear your earplugs all the time and get good ones that are comfortable. Again, we’ll talk more about this below.
Can surfer’s ear cause tinnitus?
Yes, it definitely can but usually only a mild form. I know, because I have it. Tinnitus is a chronic condition that will last with you, but it is not usually dangerous in mild forms, although it is something to be aware of.
If you think you have tinnitus, then consult your physician and speak to them about your possible options, or as an alternative see a hearing specialist.
Does wearing earplugs damage your ears?
It can do, over time, especially if the earplugs are tight. But if you wear them for surfing, this should not be a major problem, because the use time will be limited.
Make sure they’re comfortable. If you have any pain, then change them, because you shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on your ear.
How do you get rid of surfer’s ear?
Naturally, there is no way, because it’s a bony growth. The only option is to have an operation where they put a small chisel into the ear canal and chisel away the bone. This means six weeks without surfing, perhaps, and a lot of discomfort and hassle.
Instead, prevention is much better than cure, so wear your earplugs to avoid this issue altogether!
Is it safe to use Blu Tack as earplugs?
Not really, because small parts of the Blu Tack can break off and stay in your ear canal. Blu Tack will work for a short time.
However, it’s not recommended for anything more than a single use or as a work-around if you don’t have anything else available at that time.
If you’re going to be surfing regularly, do not use Blu Tack. There is putty earplugs that you can buy on the market, but personally I don’t recommend them for various reasons. I’ve tried them and I did not like them at all.
I will explain more on my favourite earplug options for surfing below.
What are the best earplugs for surfing?
Custom moulded ones from your local hearing specialist, because they fit your ear perfectly and they do not cost as much as you think. Failing that, Surf Ears are also highly recommended.
Now to get into this more, I always have my Surf Ears made by a local hearing specialist. You have to go in and get the moulds done. It takes about a week for them to come back, and you get perfect fitting earplugs.
To have the moulds done and made, or the impressions for the moulds done and the moulds to be made, this costs around 85 US dollars. Which sounds a lot, but is much cheaper and preferable to having surfer’s ear and pain.
Again, take it from me, someone who’s already got it. You really don’t want it!
If you don’t want to go down the hearing specialist route, then Surf Ears by Creatures of Leisure also come highly recommended. They’re good quality brand that do excellent hardware and their Surf Ears have great reviews.
I should note that I have not tried these. Based on researching online, they always come out top. You can see them here on Amazon if you are interested.
Do not be tempted by cheaper alternatives and buy swimming earplugs. These look tempting because they may be one fifth of the price. They will fall out and you will lose them pretty quickly if you try to wear in the surf.
Another point, don’t buy putty earplugs for surfing, simply because they’re not good enough quality to use more than a few times and, on a personal note, I found them extremely uncomfortable and quite painful as well.
It does sound like a lot of money to spend. 60 to 90, or even a hundred dollars, on earplugs. But it’s something that will pay for itself over time.
As I keep saying, I’ve got surfer’s ear and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It is not incredibly painful, but it is uncomfortable, and it does have impacts on my hearing and quality of life.
It’s a chronic condition, not something I can get rid of unless I choose to go for an operation. I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone else.
Wear your surf earplugs, especially if you’re in cold water. Make it a habit from the start and you won’t notice it.
Yes, you do lose some of that hearing when you’re out in the surf, but it is a small price to pay for keeping your ear health long into the future!