Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (most) Sundays. Enjoy 🙂
I love running and outdoor activities, but without doubt the highlight of my year is surfing. I don’t live near the coast so I have to restrict myself to surfing during my yearly vacation, but I make the most of it. A few years back I started getting problems when my head was immersed in water. For days after I would feel the water in my ears. Often I would get hearing loss until it cleared and low level infections until they dried out. This was both uncomfortable and inconvenient. I got sick of going to the doctor and getting vinegar to shoot into my ear (which smelled gross) and being constantly deaf and under the weather. When going in the fun pool at Bluestone blocked my ear I’d had enough. I knew there had to be something wrong and I was getting no traction with my GP. They would happily treat the infections, but weren’t able to find the overall cause. In fairness, the NHS is over stretched enough on major issues, and I wasn’t dying.
So, I did my own research and I found a conditions called ‘Exostosis’ or, as it is better known, ‘surfer’s ear’. The symptoms fit me exactly, water unable to leave the ear, frequent infections after and, gross I know, dead skin coming out of my ear after an episode. So, what is the cause? Exostosis is a self defence mechanism for the body. When cold water or air comes into the ear, the ear drum is at risk so the body starts to develop bone growths in the ear canal, narrowing the canal and protecting the ear drum. The downside is that this stops water getting back out of the ear once in, causing the symptoms I experienced. The ultimate resolution is surgery to grind down the bone growths but this was not something I wanted to do if I could avoid it. Also, as this is a relatively unknown condition in the UK not many surgeons are well versed in the technique. Thankfully, there is another solution. If I don’t get water in my ears, my symptoms don’t manifest, so I set about looking for the best earplugs I could find. I bought some cheap ones and all that showed me was that they would fall out as soon as I got in the water and they would not seal properly.
After doing a lot of research I came upon Surfplugs who are a UK based manufacturer of custom fit ear plugs. The process is simple, using a locator on the Surfplugs website you find your local audiologist. The audiologist will take impressions of your ears for a fee of around £25 to £30, once these have been taken they are sent to Surfplugs who, within 7 – 10 days send back the custom ear plugs in your choice of colour.
I was really excited to start this process as the thought of not being able to surf or swim without progressively more infection and ultimate hearing damage was really weighing on me. I had a number of really positive communications with Tracy at Surfplugs due to a couple of issues with the impressions the audiologist had supplied. Thankfully Surfplugs were able to work around this and in no time I had my set of custom bespoke earplugs ready to test.
My experience of using the plugs is that they form a pretty much perfect seal in my ear. It is a bit weird at first as there is a sort of ‘suction’ feeling when they slot in properly, but they are comfortable to wear even for longer periods of time. I don’t find they become itchy or sweaty after wearing. The plugs come supplied with a leash that I can attach to my wetsuit. This was a big concern for me prior to trying the plugs as I did not want to lose them when I bail in the water. In practice I think it’s pretty unlikely the plugs would come out as once fitted properly they are super snug but it’s nice to have peace of mind.
The only down side is the price. It costs £25 to get the impressions done and then £79.99 to get the first set made (further £49.99 for another set, Surfplugs retain your impressions for 3 years) and so all in all it cost over £100. The thing is, good quality non-bespoke plugs start at around £50. For me, it was more than worth the extra to get a set I knew would fit properly rather than spend £50 on a set that may not. Let’s remember the root of my issue is that the shape of my ears is abnormal.
I’m pleased with my plugs. I wish I had known about my condition and how it can be treated a lot earlier as it could have saved me time, discomfort and worry preventing the exostosis from advancing as far as it did. I didn’t think to investigate further until the condition really because too much to bear and I didn’t look at surfer’s ear because I only surf once or twice a year. The reality is that any pastime that gets cold water, or cold wind even, into the ear can start the formation of exostosis. If you experience those symptoms, my advice is to be proactive in getting them resolved. In terms of treatment, I cannot recommend Surfplugs highly enough. Don’t be put off by paying more for bespoke plugs, the advantage and performance more than outweighs the extra cost factor.
Two thumbs up for Surfplugs.
*Disclosure: I purchased Surfplugs myself