Lot's of time in the water, especially cold water, can take it's toll on your ears. Read on for some insight from TCSS owner Ryan Gerard on how to prevent it...
A few years ago I posted something about ear issues on our Instagram account and it got me thinking that it may be worth sharing a bit more on.
I started developing ear issues, mainly in my left ear, while living and surfing a lot in Santa Cruz, California in the early 2000s. The water is pretty chilly on the central coast. Things got worse after moving back to the Midwest and surfing a lot here, where the water is downright frigid much of the year, and it's windy much of the time. I tried various types of ear plugs years ago, all that can be bought in stores, and none worked. After a couple ear infections I got serious and went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. They took a mold of my ear and sent for custom plugs.
That was a dozen years ago, and they work great to keep water out. The only thing I don't like about them is they greatly decrease your ability to hear and I started to really dislike that after awhile. It was almost like a sort of desensitization while surfing; not being able to hear much seemed to take away from my surfing experience.
The years passed and I wore them off and on. Then I lost them and went without the past few years. I did start wearing a hooded suit in cold water (even when boots/gloves weren't needed) and that really helps. But, nothing keeps water out like custom molded ear plugs.
I've been back to an ear doctor a couple times since that first time, including a visit last year. She took one look and said "You've got about 50% blockage in your left ear and 75% in your right." That was a bit of a shocker, actually hearing the numbers. I've known that there was probably some closure in the ear canal but the numbers make it real. If it gets bad enough, it can affect hearing and result in more infections and other bad sh*t. Not good.
Ear candling, hot water flushing, store-bought drying liquid...I've tried it all. Here is where I'm at with it...
Prevention is key. Once the bony growth (exostosis) grows enough to start closing the ear canal, you can't go back. It can only get worse. Then, surgery is your only option to open it back up, and that means a lot of time out of the water. Prevention boils down to a couple simple things for me:
1) Keep water out of your ears. That means wearing effective ear plugs whenever in the water; surfing, swimming, whatever. Maybe even showering. The only water time these are not good for is diving, as pressure becomes a problem past 6' down or so.
2) Wear a hood in cold water and air conditions
3) Don't put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow. That includes the worst culprit, q-tips. Major no-no. Let wax drain naturally. Sage advice I heard years ago.
4) If you do get water in your ears, you can use a mixture of ethyl alcohol and vinegar to help dry them out. The warm, gentle air from a hair dryer can help, too. Or, maybe this.
I've been lucky that my hearing hasn't been affected yet and infections have not been too much of a problem. Hope this info helps you!