Submitted by outside on Fri, 01/07/2011 - 22:51
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
i realise this reply may be too late as your original post was 6 weeks ago. I have had surgery on my right ear, it had got to the stage where infection had exposed the bone in the ear canal. Luckily for me the infection had started to dissolve the bone growing into the ear canal so drilling was not required, more just cleaning out the dead skin and infected bone. This was done through the ear canal. From memory i was out of the water for around 6 weeks.
Surgeons will only operate on one ear at a time, that way if something goes wrong there's still one good ear left. I can't imagine flying to be a problem post surgery, the surgery is only in the external ear and should not affect the eardrum. For me flying would have been more of a problem pre surgery as the bone and infection was near the eardrum making it difficult to equalise pressures by popping my ear.
prolonged exposure to cold air and water is the cause of surfers ear, so indo would be a better travel detination than ireland. Earplugs and aqua ear will reduce the risk of reoccurence, i also wear a gath helmet - holds the plugs in, keeps the wind off the ears and also protects my melon on the shallow reef breaks i generally ride. Also give consideration to limiting the amount of sessions during the colder months of the year - i know this is difficult as most of the decent swells are in late autumn/winter, for me working monday to friday does a pretty good job of this :( , also being in my late 20's i tend to leave the small days for the stoked groms.
All the best.
Constant wetness of the canal causes surfers/swimmers ear. Cold water causing this is a myth.
Aqua ear will do nothing if the growth is large. If you want to slow the progress you need plugs.
Have had both ears drilled- was out of the water for 6 weeks both times.
Had left ear done at age 17 and now(age 37) is almost completely grown back !
Surgeons will only operate on 1 ear at a time so you are not deaf for 6 weeks !
Take it from a specialist in this area.....not to get too technical but,
There is two distinct disease processes called surfers/swimmers ear in common vernacular. One is exostoses(bony growths in the external meatus (external ear canal). This IS caused by colder water exposure and is a thickening the bone beneath the periosteum in the inner 1/3rd of the canal. What this means is, with repeated water exposure, the bone thickens to protect itself and the nerves embedded in the bone going to the face and jaw, amongst others, located in the superior portion of the canal wall. they usually look like little shiny pearls growing on the ear canal wall.
It only becomes problematic when the growths get big enough with repeated colder water exposure to start occluding the canal, reducing the flow of water out of the ear. As a result, after water ingress, the trapped water warms up with body heat. Like a stagnant pool, all sorts of flora thrive, and you become susceptible to ear infections, usually a type of aspergillus (looks like little tufts of cotton wool, sometimes with black heads (A. niger). It can end up purulent, with discharge if really bad. Otitis externa and resultant pain is what gets most of us to the GP,who says you have swimmers/surfers ear and treats the symptomatic infection, not the actual cause, as the exostoses themselves are rarely painful, most people do not spend as much time in the water as keen surfers so they are unlikely to keep growing, and it's easier to punch out a script in the medical director software then dictate a referral. Besides, most have had a weeks worth of lectures 10 years ago on the ear, and that's it!
Once you have them, they will not disappear on their own accord. You can avoid water less then body temperature, or get a proper set of earplugs custom made with a fenestration so you have some high frequency hearing(not the silicone putty from the chemist). You may luck out and get a set of Doc's proplugs if they fit your ear. I have a pair and they are great, but I prefer my custom plugs in winter.
Surgical intervention varies depending on the presentation, eg size, location and history. My advice, talk to the specialist who has actually seen your ears, not some random punters on the 'net even if well meant.
Flying will be no issue unless you have Eustachian tube dysfunction. As regards to water exposure, I'd be wearing plugs all the time, regardless of water temp. Be aware there may be some high frequency hearing loss from the surgical drilling. Get a pre and post op audiogram.
Thanks for post evo62 - obviously an expert reply. Question I have is I did live in Sydney when I first got exostoses, but have lived on the Sunshine Coast for the last 12 years and have got it again in both ears - the water IS warm up here. Why have I got it again ? Have problems draining after a surf and aquaear does nothing. But eventually it POPS (sometimes clapping my hands or slapping something down on the kitchen bench helps), although after swimming in chlorinated water it seems to take even longer ! Any reason for this ???
great discussion & replies. thanks
first round of surgery when i was 21, 10 weeks out of the water for one and then 11 for the second ,came in from behind the ear both times and was extremely painful.....22 years later had repeat surgery although this time i had one ear done and then the other week later which meant i was out for a total of 10 weeks although your hearing is a little muffled for that time ..very little pain apart from the anesthetic putting me a bit out of sync(surgery time was 4.5 hours on the right and 5.5hours on the left) back at work on the monday after thursday ops...
my advice is get in a health fund otherwise expect to spend around 10 grand( i wasn't)!
if your blocked ears are driving you nuts it best stuff i found to clear it temporarily was ear clear (contains carbamide peroxide) which dissolves the wax in your ear (which in combination with the water/growths blocks your ear) into a liquid and then drains out through and around the growths... aqua ear is alcohol based and mainly causes the interior of your ear to swell a little further excabating the problem when you have growths and especially if there is little infection ...ear clear is far more mild less painful
i think there are a few ENT surgeons in the capitals that use micro chisels although my guy wouldn't have a bar of it...
can be high risk surgery if they a. puncture your ear drum b.drill through the wall and damage your jaw socket and facial nerves..and slight risk of tinitis from the high speed drills get a surgeon that does it on a regular basis...
expect 18 -20 stiches behind your ear
apart from that it is a piece of piss
and no i wont be lining up for round number 3
good luck buddy!!
Once you've got them, any sort of water exposure colder then body temperature can make them worse. Possibily genetic variability seems to play a part too. I surf in QLD and was fine until I did two trips to NZ and a Tassie trip.
Any of the wax softening agents will be OK, most use carb peroxide and glycerine. Beware prolonged use can be ototoxic - which means they can give you a sensorineural hearing loss (permanent nerve damage) - sure fire way to end up with hearing aids.
Safest bet is to stop the water getting in the first place. get some earplugs. See the Neurosensory unit in Kawana for a proper custom set of swimming plugs, or come to the Goldie and see me (I'll do 'em at cost for you).
ps. Try lying sideways and pulling your ear upwards and backwards to straighten the canal. It may help the water flow out.
great information on this topic. thanks.
i also have exostoses caused from years in the water.
some time back i had some plugs custom made for my ears from a hearing place (moulds were taken of each ear). the only trouble was they fitted so tight that when i wore them all i heard was my own breath, heart beat and the wind. i couldn't hear anyone out in the water. it was most off-putting so i stopped wearing them. i now wear doc pro-plugs surfing and even when i shower. when i pool swim i use a common brand of swimmer's plugs purchased from a sports shop.
would the plugs you are referring be different to the ones i had custom made?
both the custom made plugs and docs pro-plugs have a small hole in them which i understand is very important to protect the ear drum from harm.
Cheers evo62 for your informative posts!
Ive got the blasted growths (who hasn't!!) and the specialist I saw recommended good old blutac to keep the water out which ive been using relgiously every sesh. Seems to work ok, or should I get custom plugs knocked up?
Already have some custom plugs but only use them in the pool!
ears are too far gone already and planning on next surgery.
Looked into private health but not a huge difference and you have to wait 1 year before you can claim.
If you want it done cheaper look for an ENT that operates in public hospital, which is NONE on the sunny coast.
P.S - I find lying on the bed with my head hanging over the side so it's upside down helps them drain too !!
In my experience wetsuit hoods can cause problems. Im in my 40's and have surfed in South Oz my whole life. About 10 years ago I bought a hood and after a few months started feeling my ears blocking and water feeling trapped in my ear. Another local who always wears a hood needed his ears drilled out so i stopped wearing it and the problem went away in about 6 months. Plugs would work if you really need to wear a hood i guess.
Had my right ear done a few months ago, after years of inconvenience, up at the Tweed Hospital by Dr.O'Neil. 6 weeks out of the water, but really should'nt have put up with years of blocked and infected ears. If you got extoses get it drilled - some discomfort no real pain, they give you cat.8 meds - because in the end you'll spend more quality time in the water. Plug for the pool and keep em dry.
I had my right ear done at the start of December, they cut behind the ear. When I woke up - no pain, no discomfort. Considering I'm a bald cunt, they made the stitches internal ones. Op took 3 hours. Scar is healing nicely, ear is back to its normal position, not sticking out as it did earlier on.
Haven't had a chance to go for a surf since, but am looking forward to getting back out there asap. I had mine done through Medicare at Bulli hospital by a couple of the senior surgeons from there & Wollongong hospital.
The surgeon reckons it takes about 40-50 goes to get the drilling down pat, so was very pleased that it wasn't done by a student. Be afraid if yours is to be done by a student doctor.
3 hours? Thats one hell of an operation.
SoharAdam wrote: "i hate people who are to frighten muppets to run kock pump, it's all about oversizing in 2011"
I asked if he did a frontal lobotomy as well, said it was already done.
Had my right ear done a few months ago, after years of inconvenience, up at the Tweed Hospital by Dr.O'Neil.
That Susie's father?
He's an ENT specialist but I thought he was in Brisbane.
Sorry for late rely,
Have just flown back from a trip to Weipa seeing the indigenous kiddies under ENT outreach. My custom plugs also give me a feeling of occlusion, the blocked sensation whereby you hear more of your internally generated noises then outside sound. I got used to it after a few weeks. They are able to be adjusted if you feel they are too tight. It depends on the material as to how easy it will be. If they are soft you can try cutting out some of the canal section. If they are hard acrylic, you can carefully sand them down, just make sure there are no sharp edges.
Am tired after 8 flights in 4 days. Will revisit this thread later..
I had both ears drilled 3 months apart by a surgeon who went in via the ear canal. It wasn't pleasant; particularly the first operation to make good a totally sealed ear canal. I had lots of swelling and pain in the ear, jaw and even my teeth needing strong pain relief. The 2nd operation to make good a 1/2 blocked ear was a breeze with very little pain. After both operations I was back in the surf after 6 weeks.
My surgeon strongly advised to wear ear plugs in any cold water situation. I am finding Doc Proplugs as good as any; I had some custom made but found them to be very hard and they seal out all sound like someone else said in this topic. My surgeon also said that some people are more prone to exostosis and there is a possible genetic link.
My mate Nappa just had the op done this week. Im told:
1. Sooner the better to have it done,
2. 6 weeks out of the water,
3. Cost is about $3k
Nappa- Give us the run down mate...
Yes you can protect your ear from water. The diving earplugs would help you. The water can't enter in your ear when you're using this earplugs. You can buy it from this website: http://www.aussieearplugs.com.au/#!so-many-uses/cizl
I am 55 now and had this problem on and off since my 30s, when I had an infected ear and I presented to the GP and was referred on to an ENT specialist (who just happened to be father of a high school class mate). At the time we were preparing to have the operation but after a course of steroids and a couple of polypectomies the swelling went down and he was satisfied the narrowing of the ear canal wasn't that bad. My problem has outlived my mate's dad's practice. Anyone got any recommendations for an ENT surgeon around Cronulla Sutherland area that uses a micro chisel? It preserves the ear canal skin best I hear.
No, but "I'll keep my ear to the ground". Hmmm ... interested as past questioning of local Shire Lifeguards has only led to "wear earplugs"? TBF I didn't dig too deep and sure if you ask them they should know and would be more than willing to help. The "senior" ones may be aware of specialist doctors in the area.
Anyway, please post if you find out, mine has got to the point I can't swim in chlorinated water causes a lot of pain, surfing not so bad which puzzles me, and the 24/7 "ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss ... etc"
slowman wrote: I am 55 now and had this problem on and off since my 30s, Anyone got any recommendations for an ENT surgeon around Cronulla Sutherland area that uses a micro chisel? It preserves the ear canal skin best I hear.
slowman wrote: I am 55 now and had this problem on and off since my 30s, when I had an infected ear and I presented to the GP and was referred on to an ENT specialist (who just happened to be father of a high school class mate). At the time we were preparing to have the operation but after a course of steroids and a couple of polypectomies the swelling went down and he was satisfied the narrowing of the ear canal wasn't that bad. My problem has outlived my mate's dad's practice. Anyone got any recommendations for an ENT surgeon around Cronulla Sutherland area that uses a micro chisel? It preserves the ear canal skin best I hear.
Any luck on finding an ent that uses micro chisels in Aus? I had my right ear drilled from behind the ear in 2012 and definitely looking for an alternate method for the left one.
Dr Shultz is the leading ENT in Adelaide SA. He operated on my second exostoses and the result was far better than my first op on the same ear 5yrs prior. He used a chisel instead of the drill. The recovery was significantly better and was back in the water in 4 weeks. I now always surf with ear plugs and recommend getting a set of your own moulded plugs from an Audiologist.
Had both ears done due to surfing cold waters in SA. Shithouse operation to have.
Now use Docs pro plugs, and once out of the water Aqua Ear to remove any residual water.
Sure you will loose a few plugs but just keep spares.
Have now been trouble free for several years.
LukeHS wrote: Dr Shultz is the leading ENT in Adelaide SA. He operated on my second exostoses and the result was far better than my first op on the same ear 5yrs prior. He used a chisel instead of the drill. The recovery was significantly better and was back in the water in 4 weeks. I now always surf with ear plugs and recommend getting a set of your own moulded plugs from an Audiologist.
Thanks for the recommendation , my left ear is now 80 % closed so will be looking into any options that don't involve the incision from behind the ear.
Before I begin > I have read previous swellnet posts on dilemma of keeping a ruptured ear drum dry and clear. Trying these methods has still not fixed the problem as yet. Aqua ear burns like Hades (even though doc and ENT specialist have assured me the ear drum has healed and a clear passage is visible for drainage). I don't fancy making my own concoction from vinegar / glycerin / alcohol, helmets are not an option, and have been advised against sticking absorbent papers and cotton wool in the ear to dry it by both GP and ENT spec. Ear plugs (surfears, docs pro plugs, eq seals , blue tac) work up to a point until they invariably shift and or fall out every few surfs and water enters the ear canal. Drying the ear with hair dryer is marginally effective but won't dry it completely. Average around 3 to 4 ear infections a year.
Any other suggestions in draining the ear of water and keeping the ear dry would be much appreciated!
I had surgery for surfers ear 3 weeks ago and found also to have a perforated ear drum once they chipped away. My first week was terrible, unable to stand because I'd faint. Couldn't eat for the nausea and pain in jaw. 2nd week still pain and close to fainting on short walks and still unable to turn head or eat probably due to jaw pain. 3rd week now still on regular panadol and deaf waiting for the internal dressing to dissolve. I can't bend as get shooting pain to ear if head goes lower than chest and can't lift anything heavy.. I would love to know if this is a normal recovery?! I can't seem to find anyone else saying how miserable ear surgery is.
Never heard of the post op symptoms that your having .........I reckon you have a major infection , inner ear and jawbone
Surely you would have known if you had a perforated ear drum before surgery ?
Mate theres something not right going on ....people I know that have had major reaming to near 100% blocked ear canals ..have only had mild discomfort for a week or so.....nothing as bad as you have.
I have had 5 surfer's ear surgeries over the years - minor pain for a day or so. Two of the surgeries with a micro chisel technique had me back in the surf in 2 weeks.
You need to get off to the ER urgently, right now, before the infection you obviously have does some permanent damage.
Jac, keep us updated on this.
ditto above comments, something is not right so seek urgent medical attention
Thanks to all above. was hoping I would get someone to relate!! Shit. I'm saw my surgeon on Monday and he seemed happy so far. He did tell me o had major inflammation from an infection when he did do the surgery so he didn't seem particularly surprised by my recovery. I'm a paramedic so have no signs of infection this week. Not sure how I was walking around with a perforated ear drum. I definitely wasn't comfortable pre surgery thou. I'll call my surgeon tomorrow as I'll have had a month off work and still unable to return as can't lift (which is important in my job) And still on panadol regularly. Thanks again for all your concern. Will tell you what my surgeon says..
Jac theres me thinking you might be a sook......but youre a paramedic and dealing with that pain by taking panadol......with the access to what you have for pain relief..........fuck I know what id be on ?
Guess you are aware if it is a major infection in there it may be too late you may have permanent hearing loss ?
Haha thanks udo.. My friends did offer ketamine.. ;) Endone and panadeine forte made me feel worse. I don't think it was a post op infection. I had an infection that the ENT knew about and he had me on strong antibiotics post op. So maybe with that plus the eardrum it has made my recovery so miserable. Won't know about hearing till packing dissolves. Have quite bad tinnitus but surgeon knows that too.. Urgh. Will call him.
I just had mine done 30/04/2015 and still out of the water, but not for long I expect next visit the surgeon will give me the all clear. As pain goes, if your ear is narrowed to the point of just a pin prick to hear through, you can expect some pain post op. For the first week I had to eat soft food and soup because you just can't chew hard at all. The pressure from your jaw bone is too close to the ear.
Dr Alan Evans (at Miranda) did mine and he cut the back of the ear and peels it over to go into the ear canal. Dr Andrew Bridger, also at Miranda, whose done a mate's ear several times doesn't cut the back of the ear he goes directly into the canal. To be honest I don't think it's a big deal the cut in the scheme of pain is minor compared to what is essentially bone surgery removing the exastoses, and you get a free partial face lift on that side!
By the way most ENT surgeons will use both a chisel and a drill. Once they start getting closer to the ear drum they favour the drill because if the chisel slips you can pierce the drum (which is not the real issue, as it will heal) and damage the bones behind it which could effect your hearing permanently.
I would say the pain was 3-4 out of 10 when I woke up post op but after a day or so as all the local anaesthetic wears off it kicks up to a 6/10 and for short bursts 7/10. Because it is in the middle of your head it is almost impossible to concentrate for long periods. It's like a migrane. I took 2 weeks off work. I've had my femur severed and re-attached - now that is painful (9/10) so I was thinking this would be a breeze - it wasn't that easy, probably because it is right inside your head, but it is bearable and if I need to I can see myself doing it again. The strongest pain relief if needed was codeine for a 3 or 4 days afterwards and then paracetamol occasionally after that for another week perhaps. Compare that with a morphine drip for a couple of days and you can see it's in the lower league.
My take on it, get it done sooner rather than later, cop the time out of the water 4-6 weeks isn't long in the scheme of things, and get back to surfing without the irritation of an ear that blocks and unblocks constantly.
Hey evo62, are you still doing this stuff on the Goldy?
Great info above, I'm keen to talk to someone who knows this stuff. I'm just over the border.
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Recovering now from 2nd batch of exostosis removal. Had both ears done 15 years ago via ear canal, this time both done from back of ear. i have found the healing to be quicker this way and it has been less painful. I asked about the micro chiselling technique and was advised that there is a chance of hairline cracking which can affect facial nerves if it goes bad. I also had almost 100% closure both ears, but had not had any ear infections due to some amazing drops I used. They were not expensive, and have kept me in the water whereas before I would get an ear infection after 2 consecutive days surfing. I used them in Balian a few years ago after heavy rain and despite dead dogs in the line up i still had no infection issues.
The link to them is http://corenaturopathics.com.au/2013/06/looking-for-sassall-surfers-ear-...
Can't rave about them enough. Will still use them after I have recovered from the drilling.
apple cider vinegar- thank god for it, put in ears, dap on towel cotton bud, but keep putting it in- the shit works. perservere with it.
Not looking forward to this, i think I'm at the stage where I'm going to have to get mine done, i can live with it in Oz but in Indo no matter what i do i often get an infection last trip it was inflamed after i couldn't help but itch it and i was totally deaf in one ear…it was good for sleeping though.
For further reference and common sense.
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ID, you're on the Island I think. Look up Neil Vallance. Trust your ears to no other.
Cheers Floyd i will look him up.
Alternative to surgery...
Back in the early 80's my ears were the worst the specialist had ever seen - cold water surfer. So I started wearing the yellow sound conduction ear plugs - they often fell out but were cheap and kept the ear warm and wind out. Since then I've kept them stable for 30 years surfing mainly in cold water. About 15 years ago I started using blue tack . This worked really well in cold water and some trips to Indo and Qld. . It is cheap so you don't care if you lose them and I throw the little plugs away after about 3-4 wears. I use them when snorkling (diving to 15 ft). Every time I swim in a pool. I stick a yellow plug in one ear when bike riding to stop the wind whistling. In short I have protected my ears very carefully. it is now a habit and I am used to the semi deafness out in the surf.
When I leave the surf my ear canal is close to dry. Friends who have had them drilled have had a total re-growth in the time mine have stayed stable. Apparently the old growth is slow and hard. new growth is faster growing. On trips to Indo others have had ear infections. Mine have not got infected because no water is forced deep in past the bony growths.
So there is an option to avoid the drill if you take care. Fortunately I don't get a lot of wax. I don't surf that much in winter, but feel that a hood and plugs would do the job then
I've survived 30 years with very closed ears and reckon I can get through a lot more.
I tell young surfers, as soon as they are half closed go big on ear plugs from then on take care of them
Blutac is definitely the go. Perfect fit, zero water into the ear canal. Use it once throw it away! Never travel without it!
great advice frog, i have had both drilled & now always use bluetac as you & blindboy suggests. couple of other comments, if anyone is going down the surgery route earlier is better than waiting until the ear canal is totally closed ... its a harder job in surgery, it will require more & stronger pain relief & in my case i had ongoing jaw soreness for over 3 years. your point about ear wax maybe relevant in the opposite way coz i know 2 surfers who always have masses of ear wax & have surfed without ear protection for ever & have no bone growth.
I just had the drill on my right ear. Got advice to let it go as long as I could without surgery. Had 100% blockage after every surf if any water got in. Been like this for about 8 years now. Only thing that kept me from getting opp a long time ago was getting a cotton tip and taking cotton off both ends , cut one end making sure no sharp bits , get a good angle and and seal over a vacuum cleaner and carefully suck the water out !!! Works a treat !! You don't have to insert far just have to find the gap and instant relief. No good in indo but managed to improvise with a ear syringe and cotton tip. Recommend getting surgery sooner rather than later as I'm in a fair amount of pain and feeling it may be a whole till I'm back in the water.
Laingdee wrote: I just had the drill on my right ear. Got advice to let it go as long as I could without surgery. Had 100% blockage after every surf if any water got in. Been like this for about 8 years now. Only thing that kept me from getting opp a long time ago was getting a cotton tip and taking cotton off both ends , cut one end making sure no sharp bits , get a good angle and and seal over a vacuum cleaner and carefully suck the water out !!! Works a treat !! You don't have to insert far just have to find the gap and instant relief. No good in indo but managed to improvise with a ear syringe and cotton tip. Recommend getting surgery sooner rather than later as I'm in a fair amount of pain and feeling it may be a whole till I'm back in the water.
Legendary Laingdee, you sound (sorry for the pun) like a bit of a Mcgyver.
Good luck with that ear champ.
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 .
wellymon wrote: Laingdee wrote: I just had the drill on my right ear. Got advice to let it go as long as I could without surgery. Had 100% blockage after every surf if any water got in. Been like this for about 8 years now. Only thing that kept me from getting opp a long time ago was getting a cotton tip and taking cotton off both ends , cut one end making sure no sharp bits , get a good angle and and seal over a vacuum cleaner and carefully suck the water out !!! Works a treat !! You don't have to insert far just have to find the gap and instant relief. No good in indo but managed to improvise with a ear syringe and cotton tip. Recommend getting surgery sooner rather than later as I'm in a fair amount of pain and feeling it may be a whole till I'm back in the water.
Legendary Laingdee, you sound (sorry for the pun) like a bit of a Mcgyver.
Good luck with that ear champ.