What is Swimmer's Ear and Surfer's Ear and What's the Difference?
Swimmer's ear and Surfer's ear are two common ear conditions that affect people who spend a lot of time in water, especially swimmers and surfers, hence their names. While both conditions affect the ears, they have different causes and symptoms. Here, we'll explore the differences between Swimmer's ear and Surfer's ear, and why swimmers are prone to getting both.
What is Swimmer's Ear?
Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. It occurs when water gets trapped in the ear canal, providing a breeding ground for bacteria. This condition is more common in the summer months, when people are swimming or participating in water sports more frequently, but can occur year round and anytime one enters the water. The likelihood of Swimmer's Ear can increase when swimming in dirty water or after rain when more bacteria is present in the water.
Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear:
- Itching in the ear canal
- Pain, especially when touching or pulling the ear
- Swelling of the ear canal
- Drainage of fluid or pus from the ear
- Reduced hearing
Treatment for Swimmer's Ear:
Treatment for swimmer's ear typically involves antibiotic ear drops to clear up the infection. Pain relievers may also be prescribed to alleviate discomfort. In some cases, a doctor may need to clean the ear canal of debris and pus to promote healing. Swimmer's Ear is easily preventable by wearing swimming earplugs.
Your best defence against Swimmer's Ear is to wear earplugs!
What is Surfer's Ear?
Surfer's ear, also known as exostosis, is a condition where bony growths develop within the ear canal. These growths occur due to prolonged exposure to water and wind, and and are more common in surfers and swimmers who spend a lot of time in colder water conditions in the open ocean and lakes and rivers. The bony growths can block the ear canal, leading to hearing loss and increased risk of ear infections and you guessed it, Swimmer's Ear.
Symptoms of Surfer's Ear:
- Water easily trapped in the ears
- Increased risk of ear infections and Swimmer's Ear
- Difficulty hearing in noisy environments
- Gradual hearing loss
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
Treatment for Surfer's Ear:
Treatment for Surfer's ear may involve surgical removal of the bony growths. In less severe cases, a doctor may recommend wearing earplugs or a neoprene hood to protect the ears from further exposure to cold water and wind. Earplugs will prevent bony growth in the ear canal, are also the best way to prevent Surfer's Ear.
Surfer's Ear bone growth in the ear canal blocking the ear drum.
Why do Swimmers Get Both?
Regular swimmers, especially open ocean swimmers are more prone to getting both Swimmer's ear and Surfer's ear due to their prolonged exposure to cold water and wind. When any water gets trapped in the ear canal, it creates a moist environment that promotes bacterial growth, leading to Swimmer's ear. At the same time, exposure to cold water and wind can lead to the development of bony growths in the ear canal, leading to surfer's ear. Many swimmers often present symptoms that are an overlap of both Swimmer's Ear and Surfer's ear. Below renowned ENT specialiast Dr Hetzler explains the overlap of Swimmer's ear and Surfer's Ear.
Swimmer's ear and Surfer's ear are two different conditions that both affect the ears of people who spend a lot of time in water, especially swimmers! Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear canal that occurs due to bacterial growth, while Surfer's ear is a bony growth that develops within the ear canal due to exposure to cold water and wind. Swimmers are more prone to getting both conditions due to their prolonged exposure to water. If you're experiencing symptoms of either condition, it's important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.