Corky's Secrets to Longevity
by Corky Carroll
It’s fall and both the air and the water are getting colder by the minute. One of the main health concerns for avid surfers this time of year is taking care of the ears. When it gets colder the chance for “Surfers Ear,” a.k.a. known clinically as Exostoses, is greater and greater. What is this, you ask? It is a boney growth inside the ear canal just outside the ear drum that forms to protect the ear drum from cold and wind. If left untreated it can cause major problems with your ears and if let go long enough could impair hearing. It is a pain in the neck, or head as it may be, as when it starts getting bad water can get trapped inside your ears and wax and crud builds up behind the bumps and you can really irritating popping and plug ups. I have had it a number of times and my savior was Dr. Carol Jackson, who is the leading specialist in Surfers Ear. Convenient that her office, Newport Ear and Balance Clinic, is here in Orange County. Every year at this time I ask Dr. Jackson to give you, my astute and loyal readers, an update this condition so that those of you that surf regularly, as I do, can be more prepared for the upcoming winter season. Here is this years update direct from Dr. Jackson.
When exostoses enlarge over years of surfing to the point of blocking about 80% of the ear canal diameter, they disrupt the ear’s normal protective mechanisms. That’s when plugging and uncomfortable infections, “swimmer’s ear”, can occur. Problems can become frequent, severe, and uncontrolled despite diligent office and self-care. That’s when they should be removed.
The good news is that micro surgical laser-assisted removals are more complete, safe, less invasive, and with less discomfort than ever before. There are no external incisions. With this technique and fifteen-year follow-up, we have found that exostosis doesn’t require further surgical removal. It’s a permanent solution. What’s also new is that a commercial graft material has been developed. It’s helpful in repeat revision surgery where the patient’s own graft donor tissues may be scarred or limited from prior surgery. This assists lining all bare bone canal and tympanic membrane areas after total exostosis removal. With complete lining, most surfers can return to water about four weeks later with precautions.
More good news is that reversible hearing loss from blockages can be relieved by micro removals and office care. And, although permanent partial hearing nerve loss from surfing trauma or board injury adds to noise loss from loud concerts, etc., it can be helped. Advanced technology hearing aids improve conversational hearing clarity with patient satisfaction in over 95%. Many are barely visible, are rechargeable, and link to TVs and cell phones for improved listening.
If you experience ear plugging or discomfort, drainage, hearing loss or dizziness, see an experienced ear doctor, an otologist or neurotologist. They have two years of ear surgery training after ENT residency. Before making an appointment, ask if the doctor uses an office microscope for exostosis and deep cleanings. Ask to see your exostosis on a screen and take or receive a photo to keep. It’s important to understand your ear problems and how to care for them.
The best news is that exostosis is totally preventable by wearing ear plugs while surfing. The strongest stimulus to formation is repeated forceful rush of water against the ear such as when active surfers wipe out. The second strongest stimulus is how cold the water is that slams against the ear drum. Plugs should be comfortable and stay in to block the forceful entry of cold water. Custom vented
or membrane ear plugs allow sound to be heard through them. They comfortably stay in, float, and come in bright colors so are rarely lost in the water. Plugs immediately halt the growth of exostoses.
Ear wax is your friend! It’s a protective water-repellent coating the canal; like the wax you use on a surfboard. Also, it moisturizes skin which is necessary for the ear canal’s self-cleaning function. I don’t recommend Q tips, alcohol or non-prescription agents. They remove too much ear wax and oils. That causes dryness and skin cracking which leads to blockage from dead irritated skin, debris, and dry wax. When water is retained in the ear, evaporate it with a hair dryer or surfer’s ear dryer for use on the go. They’re on the internet and plug into vehicle ports or run on batteries.
For an assessment of the severity of your exostosis or a status check, it’s prudent to see an ear doctor with an office microscope. Also, have a hearing test in a sound booth by an audiologist or hearing professional. “Take care of your ears. They keep you connected to enjoy life!”
For contact with Dr. Jackson and more info go to www.myeardoctors.com