Warning: 1 in 17 Surfers Have Had A Surfer's Ear Operation; Don't Be One Of Them (Infographic)

Warning: 1 in 17 Surfers Have Had A Surfer's Ear Operation; Don't Be One Of Them (Infographic)

Warning: 1 in 17 Surfers Have Had A Surfer's Ear Operation; Don't Be One Of Them (Infographic)

If you surf regularly you are at risk of surfer's ear.  Amazingly 1 in 17 surfers I surveyed have had a surfer's ear operation. Little research has been performed in this area so I thought I would do some of my own.

Surfer’s ear is the common name for cranial exostosis.  This is a condition suffered by surfers in all climates. The water and wind chill the ear canal and mastoid bone behind the ear. This results in the body creating bony spurs around the opening to the ear canal.  These gradually close up the ear canal, resulting in deafness and frequent ear infections.

In established cases, the bony outgrowths need to be removed with a tiny chisel or drill. The procedure can be quite unpleasant so do make sure you take precautions to prevent the problem! The bony spurs may return after removal so care still needs to be taken after treatment.


I have made you an infographic to explain some of the results for you.  I have described it for you further down the page.  Please feel free to share the image on your website, please link back to us as the original source.

Warning: 1 in 17 Surfers Have Had A Surfer's Ear Operation; Don't Be One Of Them (Infographic)

Baby Frank is telling you that surfing puts you at risk of going deaf.  In my previous post on my research I said that most people with a diagnosis of surfer's ear have some deafness. It does not occur until the narrowing of the canal reaches 90%.

40% Of Surfers Aren't Aware That A Cap Is Required To Prevent Surfer's Ear

So who are the surfers who are having the operations? The survey was completed by 206 surfers who were mostly local to Cornwall. Of the 11 who had their ears drilled or chiseled before, the average number of years surfing was 30. They averaged 8 surfs per month and 2 hours in the water per session. This gives an average number of hours surfed in total of 5760.

This is in comparison to the average number of hours surfed by the whole group which came to 2880.  (8 times a month times 15 years times 12 months times 2 hours). This shows that the longer you surf, the more likely you are to need an ear operation for your surfer's ear.  This is not surprising but the fact has not been shown before.

In the infographic Tim is miserable because he has had the overgrowth of bone in his ears chiselled away. He now regrets not wearing surfing ear plugs and a neoprene cap.

The Cap

Surfers need an insulated cap to cover the mastoid, the bony lumps behind her ears. 40% of surfers are not aware that a cap is required as well as the ear plugs to prevent the condition. The mastoid contains an air space which joins with the middle ear. Cooling of the outer ear and the mastoid has an effect on the membrane covering the bone (periosteum). It triggers the formation of new bone (exostoses) around the opening of the ear.

The Plugs

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ZenPlugs surfing earplugs are effective and extremely comfortable. They contain Steritouch, an amazing antibacterial compound proven to clear ear infection causing germs. The compound lasts for the life of the earplugs and is safe for humans. It kills the likes of salmonella, staph aureus and other nasties. This makes them useful for keeping ear infections and surfer's ear at bay

Sufferers of the condition are at much higher risk of ear infections. This is because the narrowing of the outer part of the canal stops dead skin and dirt escaping. People often notice that their ears feel blocked for longer after being in the water. The narrowing results in poor ventilation of the canal. As well as this, prolonged water-logging of the skin and canal occurs. Both of these factors encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi.

Further results showed that sufferers have ear infections on average twice a year. Those without the condition have them far less often.

Infections of the outer ear (otitis externa) are more common in warm waters such as the Caribbean. The heat promotes the growth of bacteria which makes infection more likely. It is likely that the temperate conditions result in people staying in the sea for longer. This leaves the ears wet for longer also. The water softens the skin in the ear and reduces it's ability to block bacteria. It also rinses away the protective wax lining the canal.

ZenPlugs Molded Surfing Ear Plugs protect the ears against infection using their unique Double-Action. They stop the water swilling around the ear. Otherwise it softens the skin, removes wax and deposits bacteria. They are also antibacterial, killing the bugs which cause infection. They prevent surfer's ear also by stopping the water rinsing around the ear and cooling it down.

It is important to wear a surfing cap with your ZenPlugs.  In my previous post I showed that wearing both makes you 17 times less likely to get surfer's ear.

In summary, it is surprising how common surfer's ear operations are. 1 in every 17 surfers surveyed had operations. Unsurprisingly, if you are a long term surfer you are at much higher risk.  40% of surfer's don't know that a cap is needed to prevent the condition. Wearing a neoprene cap and surfing ear plugs most of the time reduces the risk.

Infographic Transcript

Warning: 1 in 17 Surfers Have Had Surfer's Ear Operation; Don't Be One Of Them

Surfer's Ear

Surfer's ear is a common condition affecting most surfers who have been in the water regularly for 10 years or more.  

The action of the cold wind and water on the ear causes bony outgrowths (exostoses) to form around the opening.  This leads to narrowing, deafness and frequent ear infections.

Surfing Causes Deafness

Baby Frank is trying to tell you that surfing puts you at risk of deafness.

1 in 17 Surfers Have Had Their Ears Drilled Or Chiselled

A new survey of 206 surfers showed that 6% of them, 1 in 17, had experienced surgery on their ears. (1) On average they had been surfing for 30 years, surfed 8 times a month and were in the water for 2 hours at a time.  This gives a total water time of; 5760 hours.

Poor Tim Was The 1 Surfer In 17

Tim was miserable; if only he'd worn his surfing cap and ear plugs, his ears wouldn't be so sore after having the bone chiselled away.

How To Prevent Surfer's Ear

Evidence shows that wearing surfing ear plugs and a cap are super-effective at keeping surfer's ear at bay.  Research by Dr Toby Bateson shows a 17-fold reduction (1) in surfer's ear in those who wear cap and plugs more than 90% of the time.  For more information and a full explanation of this infographic please visit http://zenplugs.com/blog/warning-1-in-17-surfers-have-surfers-ear-operation.

(1) Surfer's Ear Research By Dr Toby Bateson. See zenplugs.com.

Dr Toby Bateson

MB ChB, College of Emergency Medicine Certificate Of Training In Good Clinical Practice In Research