Surfer's ear - Surgery, recovery time & tropical water

outside's picture
outside started the topic in Friday, 7 Jan 2011 at 10:51pm

I have a bad case of surfer's ear.

The bone in one ear has grown to almost completely block the ear canal while in the other ear the canal is about 60% blocked.

After years of ear infections and increasing deafness I have decided I need to front up for surgery and have an appointment with a surgeon in 3 weeks.

My questions, hopefully some of you can answer from your own first hand experience:

1. Surgery method seems to differ, either in via the ear canal or behind the ear. Is one better than the other in terms of (1.) health outcomes and (2.) recovery time. I appreciate everyone is different.

2. Recovery time: how soon can I reasonably expect to get back into the water and also fly (I want to do at least one surf trip this year)

3. Tropical water & ear infections: given both ears probably need surgery if I go to say Indo with one dodgy ear am I asking for trouble or can this be avoided with plugs and "aqua ear" type solutions to dry out my ear between surfs.

Thanks, looking forward to your comments

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 8:58am

I've got the beginnings of Surfers Ear my doc told me recently. My right side more so than my left. My left has a recurring Staph infection and when the water warms up I get copius quantities of pus blocking my ear and I have to go to the local ENT doc and get my ears sucked out twice a week in summer. But that's another story in itself. As I sit and type my right ear is blocked from surfing yesterday even while wearing plugs. This is the side with the most pronounced bone growth.

Based on the above about getting in early, should I get it drilled now rather than holding off?

PS I'm a big girly when it comes to pain. How bad is it?

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 9:53am

Fuck Zenny ..recurring Staph ..you got to get that sorted !

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 10:00am

I know Udo, 8 years and counting, can even pinpoint the time. Over-zeaulous cleaning with cotton tips and surfing a filthy rivermouth with no plugs.

The strain I have is very resistant to antibiotics, I think it's called MRSI or something. The doc said the best I can do is not put anything in my ears and manage it. The internal damage to my ear means the delicate skin takes ages/years to heal. Gives me the shits. In summer I'm deaf in one ear pretty much most of the time till the water and air temp goes cold again.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

floyd's picture
floyd's picture
floyd commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 11:20am

@outside .....

Q1. Speak to your surgeon, they seem to specialise in one or the other method, but via the ear canal has to be the more advanced method as its overall less intrusive.
Q2. Recovery time ought to be no more than 4-6 weeks out of the surf.
Q3. I think you already know the answer there, if you must go to Indo with only one ear done get the 100% blocked one done first, common sense really and you will know the pain you suffer with the first operation will be less of the second.

I had both done with a 3 month period in between operations. Via the ear canal. First 100% blocked lots of post operation pain back in the water within 6 wks but with ongoing jaw sore/stiffness for 3 years. 2nd operation about 70% blocked and that was a breeze, no pain relief at all, again 6 weeks out of the water.

Your surgeon. How did you pick him/her? were you referred by your GP? .... I only ask coz mine was a gun, in fact he teaches the via the ear canal method to other surgeons ... don't go with any ole jock, I'd personally check that out before I'd let them near me with a knife ....

The other thing is timing of the ops .... here in vicco spring/early summer has shitty surf so its a good time to get it done but not in autumn / winter with the groundswells

lostdoggy's picture
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lostdoggy commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 11:19am

That's happening to me too, zen. Don't think I have staph, but a recurring infection and always blocked in summer.
Anyone have recommendations for insurance?
Think I'll get that and then wait a year for elective surgery.
I need both ears done. Left is 95% closed over they reckon, right about 80

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 11:31am

Lostdoggy, how do you manage the blockage? Do you put up with the deafness? Drives me bonkers.

I just go in Mondays and Fridays, they know me pretty well by now. They use the sucker thing, kind of like what dentists use and then he coats the inner ear with a kind of brown stuff and then uses an ointment that kind of looks like thin silicon sealant on top of that. In and out in less than 5 mins

I get about a day of relief and then the next morning, totally blocked again.

But the water is still really cold here and my right ear is the one giving me trouble today which indicates the overgrown bone is starting to affect me rather than my infection.

Also, my infection is awful, the smell of the discharge is heinous, I hate it.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

lolo's picture
lolo's picture
lolo commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 11:45am

I had mine done about 4 years ago now. Did the behind the ear method and had absolutely no dramas with it. Looks pretty ugly with about 20 staples holding your ear on for a week, but it's a clean surgical cut and heals up really quick. I asked the Doc about going in via the canal and he preferred to take the ear off as everything's right there in front of him with the ear out of the way. As he said, taking the ear off is just a piece of minor surgery, where the bone removal is a bit more major and potentially troublesome. I wouldn't regard it as a deal breaker which way they go in.

Definitely better to get it done sooner than later. They have to grind down the bone growth, so the less time they're in there doing that, the less time your eardrum is hammered by the noise. Tinnitus is a risk so go early rather than wait till its completely blocked. I was lucky in that I had 3 separate spurs growing out from the canal and 2 of them snapped off pretty quickly when he hit them with the drill without having to be ground right down. He gave me one to take home in a jar and it looks and feels just like a miniature tooth.

6 weeks till back in the water is about right and bloody important also. If you go jumping back into the water with a half healed wound after 4 weeks you might run into trouble. It's a great place for a wound to get infected and fester. Know of a couple of people who have had post-op dramas and both didn't wait it out for the full 6 weeks.

Had no pain after a day. It's uncomfortable for a couple of weeks with your ear canal stuffed full of gauze and stuff but wasn't ongoing pain for me.

lostdoggy's picture
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lostdoggy commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 12:45pm

Zen, yours is worse than mine, but not by too much.
I have some ointment stuff that I got from the doc that I use when it's bad. The water here is always warmer than your summer.
I pretty much put some of that surfers ear alcohol stuff in it, then try and hold the outer ear open and try and hit it with a good angle with the hair dryer. Then add the ointment.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 12:53pm

Cheers LD and Lolo, think I might have to take the plunge.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

lostdoggy's picture
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lostdoggy commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 1:23pm

There should be some sort of education for youngsters (particularly in cold areas)into prevention. Surf brands could do it, they might sell a few more hoods down in Torquay.
I never knew anything until symptoms began (probably didn't work it out till a few years of symptoms had gone by actually) and surfed every vic winter without a hood.

wellymon's picture
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wellymon commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 2:00pm

zenagain wrote: Cheers LD and Lolo, think I might have to take the plunge.

Take the plunge Zen, it must be really annoying.

While you're taking the plunge and your ears are completely off, maybe ask them politely, to trim them up a tad. You now, like one of your all time favourite movie characters, Dr Spock, Shrek, Yoda even!

Me, I would tell them to just leave it right off.
I reckon the 'Chopper' look would go down alright;)

Our brains are too small at the moment to comprehend the reality of what's happening in our forests . We're only just waking up so to speak . The big problem is we think we know everything, we are specks of dust on a timeline and we know nothing .

zenagain's picture
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zenagain commented Thursday, 7 Apr 2016 at 2:06pm

If I went the full Chopper I'd have nowhere to hang my specs Welly.

And yes, my ears drive me ape-shit bat crazy.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

batfink's picture
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batfink commented Friday, 8 Apr 2016 at 11:57am

zenagain wrote: Also, my infection is awful, the smell of the discharge is heinous, I hate it.

Was going to invite you round for dinner zen, meet the wife and kids, but I've just lost the invitation somewhere. :-)

From Dr Google "Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It's tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus -- or staph -- because it's resistant to some commonly used antibiotics."

Hope you can clear that somehow Zen, or that we kill you off and burn your body. MRSA is a HUGE problem in western medicine, and most hospitals have some of it around (most likely place to pick it up is in a hospital). Threatens every type of antibiotic, propelling us back to the dark ages of medicine.

I kid you not!

zenagain's picture
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zenagain commented Friday, 8 Apr 2016 at 12:26pm

Thanks Batfink, I'd rank this only slightly higher than another burning discharge that I'd rather not talk about.

Truth is for the last twenty or so years I've barely even taken an aspirin and the number of times I've been on prescribed anitbiotics you could count on one hand. I'm not anti medicine but I feel people these days tend to self-medicate a little more than is necessary.

But this little condition I have is proving to be one stubborn mo-fo.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

Indoturtle's picture
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Indoturtle commented Tuesday, 18 Oct 2016 at 9:21am

Just had my right ear done again after 15 years. The original operation sucked, cut the ear off and I was in pain for 8 days. This time went through from the front and apart from a little bit of pain for a day or so all good. My ear was fully closed and as the doc removeed the exostosis he also punctured the ear drum as the exostosis was pushing against it. Not too much of a drama except I have a smaller cap protecting the ear drum. 5 weeks in now and two more to go before being back in the water. Can't wait. This time will wear the ear plugs!!!!!
As I am in Tas had to get private insurance and wait a year to get the op done. About a 20-30 year wait to go public! Pay the insurance for a year and then get the op. One thing to make sure is you get the right insurance provider so you don't get hit with the 'gap'! I had surgeons saying even with insurance they would be charging an extra $500 - $3000 for the op! Shop around first.
Good to get it done at start of Spring down here as surf and weather have been crap.

eardone's picture
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eardone commented Tuesday, 14 Mar 2017 at 3:21pm

just had surgery on my left ear at tweed hospital by doctor micheal busby his office is at john flyn hospital .I can not recommend him highly enough ive been putting up with infection on and off for 30 years the last 5 have been a nightmare continueous infection most GPs and ive been to heaps of them only want to give you ear drops or oral antibiotics which only help the symptoms not the cause which is the boney growths and water.My brother had his done two years ago and he was in bloody agony for weeks where they did the old slice the ear behind and go in from there.Dr Busby uses chisels and drill for the end tricky bits through the ear canal . I woke up in hospital and did not feel like I had any surgery no pain was released in the afternoon and back at work 2 days later .The doc reckons he doesn't know why some people get so much pain and says he pretty much does it like every other surgeon but his patients don't have pain I think he must be doing something right there.1 week later now no pain still a little numb went to doc yesterday all really good he put camera in my ear and straight as a gun barrel then showed me the other ear and wtf what a mess .so iwill start the whole ball rolling again on the right ear the wait is year .don't put up with infections get it done.ears to ya.

crg's picture
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crg commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 7:33am

"just had surgery on my left ear at tweed hospital by doctor micheal busby his office is at john flyn hospital .I can not recommend him highly enough"

Hi eardone
Was this under private insurance or through Medicare via Tweed hospital.
I've got to get the right ear done asap and looking for the best options.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 9:22am

Ears and eyes, ay! The bane of the ageing surfer.

I've had bad surfer's ear for about 15 years, but have been able to manage it. I see the specialist at Wellington Hospital every year, and even though she's a surgeon and a bit keen to operate, she has admitted that not operating has been the right choice.

I wear earplugs religiously (little purple silicone things that look like xmas trees. Comfortable and never fall out), when swimming, surfing, having a bath - you name it. My ear canal has maintained about a 1mm opening, but my hearing hasn't deteriorated, and I haven't had an ear infection for 15 years.

I'm not questioning anybody's choice to have the operation, just saying that there might be hope without it.

My eyes are farked, though. One pterygium operation done, and the other probably to follow. Hooded rashie in the tropics, and a hat or peaked neoprene hood at home. Sunglasses too on windy days :-/

sneakerset's picture
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sneakerset commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 10:20am

Hi Crg,

There are a couple of options if you don't have available funds sitting around, or have been told the public hospital waiting list timeframe (years?!), or you don't already have private health cover.

1. You could sign up for private health cover and wait the required 12 months for pre-existing conditions before booking the op. Make sure you get the Medicare item number for the removal of exostosis (the surgery clinic can provide this medicare item number). Will prob set you back $1500-$1800 in premiums for the 12month wait period then a $500 hospital excess charge. Still cheaper than forking out $10k+ for the op.

2. Second option is to try to access your Superannuation to pay for it (if you are under 60 and haven't met the normal condition of release of funds. I was approved access to funds to cover a shoulder reconstruction.

Under Australia's superannuation rules, people can apply to the DHS for early access to their retirement savings on compassionate grounds for medical procedures.For medical procedures, funds can be granted to treat/ alleviate chronic pain. Two doctors must sign off on the report. One doctor must be a specialist in the relevant condition.
Super funds have the final say on the release of the money.

All the best..

hillsintas's picture
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hillsintas commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 11:19am

Thanks to all who have put in some great information to this thread. Some great tips and tricks and knowledge. I am off to a ENT in a few weeks and will know what to ask. Thanks again.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 1:25pm

Thanks for the replies everyone to my inquiry and to all the information on this thread.

I just returned from my Doc and he gave me a comprehensive overview of the situation and the best way to approach it especially if you're a bit short on $$.
A visit to a specialist will set you back about $2-300 with about half refunded by Medicare. You go straight in for the surgery if you've got the cover or you can be put on a waiting list for the specialist at your local base hospital - usually 12-18 months, which will be covered by Medicare in the public health system.

A couple of bits of info from him which I'm sure some will debate:
The major benefit of the op is aiding hearing loss and only a small part is of reducing infections.
Behind the ear is way more effective and safe.
The operation is essential when the bone growth crosses over by about 70% but you may be operated on when it's only over by as little as 30% depending on the natural size of your ear canal and also the $$ motivation of the specialist to operate.
3 monthly ear cleans, ear plugs and ear drops will work effectively for most non extreme situations.
Cause is now believed to be wind and not water and/or its temp.
About 70% in surfers on east coast is right ear due possibly to predominate S wind as you sit looking out to sea.

I've just had a clean out of both ears and some antibiotic drops for the bad ear and I'm off to the specialist to go on a public waiting list. It will give me a year or so to see if the prevention methods work well enough to weigh up against the surgery.

Hope this all helps and adds to the great information already up here.
Thanks again everyone.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

Fleazool's picture
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Fleazool commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 2:53pm

Great info all.
Interesting the thoughts about the wind being the cause crg
I've got pretty advanced surfers ear, more so on the right side. Surfing in Vic through many winters copping the cold westerly winds from that side. I find a hood in winter gives me protection from the wind & stops cold water being shoved into the ears . I'm able to manage the symptoms that way. No hood/plugs through the warmer months & not too many issues. Have tried but can't do the plugs.
My GP reckons unless your going deaf, or have serious issues with infections or pain, it's best to avoid an unnecessary procedure if you can. As there is always some element of risk

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Monday, 26 Mar 2018 at 4:12pm

I have been surfing for 30 years, mostly in cold windy conditions. After ten years my ears were getting pretty bad. After that I started wearing a hood, even in summer. This 1/ keeps the ears warm 2/ helps keep the water out and 3/ Keeps the wind out. Since I started wearing the hood my ears have stabilised and they haven't gotten any worse. I very occasionally (once every five years) get a minor ear infection, but on the whole my ears are giving me no problems now. I wish I could go back in time and convince my younger self to start wearing a hood from day one!

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MidWestMonger commented Wednesday, 28 Mar 2018 at 5:59pm

I had a 90 % blockage of my right ear from 2 exostosis growths drilled out at Bunbury hospital on 12th of Feb. Went on the public waiting list maybe 14 months earlier. Not hugely painful after but was prescribed 5mg oxycodones. Annoying having the packing in for two weeks, so good when that comes out. The surgery was offered in Perth but on a much longer waiting list. Tomorrow is the 6 week wait over. Always surf since being diagnosed with TC's brand of ear plugs and a hooded rashy. look like a weirdo, cant hear for shit but dont wanna go through this again if it can be avoided. Total out of pocket on the public waiting list probably less than $200, just depends on the area you are in on the length of wait. (numbers waiting and available ENT surgeons)

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darius commented Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 3:22pm

Hey everyone,

Great thread, got some useful information. I've had the op done on both ears about 10 years ago and just found out I have to have it done again. I've read up on the chisel technique and wanting any recommendations on doctors who specialise on that. Got a couple of names from the thread but would love any more. Thanks.

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Mishad commented Sunday, 6 May 2018 at 8:28pm

Just Had mine done both at same time, chisel method here in South Africa, right ear 100% blocked (lost hearing) left about 60%. 3 weeks recovery and I'm good to go back in water. Just waiting for the next swell. Cost me about $4000 AUD equivalent all up for both ears. Checked into Hospital at 1pm, 4 hr hospital visit and I was back out having dinner and wine with the Mrs that night. Dr Martin Young in Knysna. I tried to go the normal Australian medical route but after the ENT specialist wanted $400 just to give me a quote (after a $80 GP consult for a letter telling me what I already knew I had), I decided Dr Young it is. Read my review here on link below. I got it done on 10th April and I'm good to go in the water after 3 weeks (with ear plugs and using peroxide before and after to keep it clean.

Dr Young specialises in chisel technique and is passionate about his work. Do a surf trip to South Africa, book the Surgery for the tail end of your trip and including flights to oz and back it'll still work out cheaper than getting it done in oz and alot less painful and rapid recovery time. Any more questions let me know. Or connect with Dr Young on email or his Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/surfersearsurgery/?ref=br_rs

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 7 May 2018 at 7:53am

Back in the Water after 3 weeks...After a Double Ear Chiseling
Surely not ?

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 7 May 2018 at 7:17pm

Zen did you get that inner ear Staph infection sorted ?

Mishad's picture
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Mishad commented Wednesday, 9 May 2018 at 1:39am

That right Udo 3 weeks. Saw the doc after 3 weeks to the day said I can go back in the water. All healed except one tiny match head size raw bit he had to use the drill to grind down as it was close to the drum. But said no worries with ear plugs and peroxide before and after.

Just had my first surf now (4 weeks after surgery) and all seems fine so far - no pain or weird feelings. Except after a wipeout I went deep and ear drum felt sensitive with the pressure. Prob because its still all sensitive tissue in there after the trauma of surgery but back in the water nonetheless.

groovie's picture
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groovie commented Sunday, 23 Sep 2018 at 6:55am

90% in right ear & 80% in left! been using Blutac for ears & gath hat in Indo & @ home! haven't had an ear infection for years, but forgot Blutac whilst free diving in Indo, water got in so looked on line for home remedy(no chemist where I was), Vodka& white vinegar mix dried up water trapped in ear canal, resulting in no infection & back in the surf nxt day! Blutac & Gath hat = no op(so far). every time the G.P. looks @ my ears they freak & ask me how many infections I get, none is my response!Senn 2 ENT surgeons , first one insisted I need Op ASAP! @ 2nd opinion from another ENT surgeon who said no infection= no problem!

Garryh's picture
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Garryh commented Saturday, 29 Dec 2018 at 6:03am

Hi there. I'm wondering if anyone based in Melbourne can recommend a good doctor for surfers ear. I'm hoping to hear from someone who (a) has had surfers ear and (b) has had it treated by a doctor in Melbourne and (c) had a good outcome. Thanks in advance

WinterSwells

GuySmiley's picture
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GuySmiley commented Saturday, 29 Dec 2018 at 6:19am

@garryh, Neil Vallance

Jesseowen4's picture
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Jesseowen4 commented Monday, 21 Jan 2019 at 11:18am

Hey everyone I’m looking for recommendations on a good doc for the surgery. I’m 21 y/o and my right ear is normally 90% shut but because of an infection it’s been completely shut for a few weeks now.
I guess I’m the odd ball out in here as I live in Florida (the warmest place to be, just about) and have never surfed a day in my life. I first noticed the growth in my ear when I was about 13 y/o and have been dealing with deftness and ear infections ever since.
I’m looking for someone with experience doing the surgery on the east coast of the U.S.
right now the best person I have found is dr. Douglas Hetzler over in California on the west coast who gave me a quote of $8100 for the surgery. (I have no health insurance)
Any feedback and recommendations would be greatly appreciated.