Surfer's ear: external auditory exostoses are more prevalent in cold water surfers

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2002 May;126(5):499-504. doi: 10.1067/mhn.2002.124474.


Objective: The study goal was to demonstrate the prevalence and severity of external auditory exostoses (EAEs) in a population of surfers and to examine the relationship between these lesions and the length of time surfed as well as water temperature in which the swimmers surfed. It was hypothesized that subjects who predominantly surfed in colder waters had more frequent and more severe exostoses.

Methods: Two hundred two avid surfers (91% male and 9% female, median age 17 years) were included in the study. EAEs were graded based on the extent of external auditory canal patency; grades of normal (100% patency), mild (66% to 99% patency), and moderate-severe (<66% patency) were assigned. Otoscopic findings were correlated with data collected via questionnaires that detailed surfing habits.

Results: There was a 38% overall prevalence of EAEs, with 69% of lesions graded as mild and 31% graded as moderate-severe. Professional surfers (odds ratio 3.8) and those subjects who surfed predominantly in colder waters (odds ratio 5.8) were found to be at a significantly increased risk for the development of EAEs. The number of years surfed was also found to be significant, increasing one's risk for developing an exostosis by 12% per year and for developing more severe lesions by 10% per year. Individuals who had moderate-severe EAEs were significantly more likely to be willing to surf in colder waters than were those who had mild EAEs (odds ratio 4.3).

Conclusions: EAEs are more prevalent in cold water surfers, and additional years surfing increase one's risk not only for developing an EAE but also for developing more severe lesions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cold Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Ear Canal / injuries*
  • Ear Canal / pathology
  • Exostoses / epidemiology*
  • Exostoses / etiology*
  • Exostoses / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Swimming / injuries*
  • Time Factors