Surfer-Ear Surgery

Surfer’s Ear and the Chisel Method

Surfer’s ear is a condition caused by the repeated rinsing of the ear canal with exceedingly cold water, typically in cold water surfers, but also in other water sports, such as windsurfing, kiting and diving.

The cold water stimulates the growth of the bone of the ear canal, usually in 3 distinct lumps, growing inwards and narrowing the ear canal.

Initially this is not a problem but if the narrowing becomes significant, the ear becomes prone to water trapping, blockage and repeated ear infections. It may block off completely.

By this time the only solution is to remove the excess bone growth to re-establish the patency of the ear canal.

This can be done by making an incision and flapping the ear forward and drilling away the excess bone, however, this method is painful in the post-operative period, takes a long time to heal and puts the patient at risk of infection, hearing loss and permanent ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

I use a minimal access, keyhole approach by operating down the ear canal, with no external cuts. The ear canal skin is parted where it overlies the bony growths and the excess bone is carefully sculpted away using a fine 1mm osteotome (chisel). Hence the name for this technique being the chisel method.

Using this method, the risks of infection, hearing loss and tinnitus are mitigated and surfers can return to water sport after 2-3 weeks. Both ears can be done at the same time if so desired.

It would be wise for surfers to use ear plugs and a hoodie to either prevent the need for surgery in the first place or after surgery to prevent the problem recurring.

What is surfer’s ear?

Surfer’s ear is a narrowing of the external ear canal caused by bone growth in response to repeated cold water exposure, typically in surfers or divers.

Who needs surgery?

If the ear canal is too narrow, this results in water trapping, blockage of the ears and repeated infections. Wearing ear plugs may prevent some of the above, but surgery is indicated.

How is the surgery done?

Gary uses a minimal access approach through the ear canal, without incisions. The bone is carefully sculpted away using fine 1mm chisels and with no drilling used to avoid the risks of hearing loss and tinnitus. This method is relatively pain free and heals quickly, allowing a return to water sport in 2-3 weeks. Both ears can be operated on at the same time.

How soon can I start to surf again?

A return to water sport after 2-3 weeks is usual.

How can surfer`s ear be prevented?

Wearing ear plugs will prevent progression. Wearing a hoodie will provide additional protection.