Exostosis of External Ear Canal

Ear Exostosis is the medical term for an abnormal growth of bone within the canal. It is more commonly referred to as swimmer’s or surfer’s ear. This common name derives from the fact that the most common cause of exostosis is frequent exposure to cold water, making this a condition that affects surfers at a higher rate than the average population.

When you are exposed to wind and cold water the bone surrounding the ear canal thickens and constricts the ear canal, sometimes to the point of complete blockage (known as “occlusion”) which can lead to substantial conductive hearing loss. Therefore, an exostosis growth can result from any activity that exposes you to cold, wet and windy conditions such as skiing, kayaking, fishing, sailing or diving.

Swimmers' Ear -exostoses.ent

Ear exostoses

Exostosis symptoms of include a decrease in hearing sensitivity possibly combined with an increased prevalence of ear infections. Early symptoms include water trapping in the ear canal after swimming. Sometime thereafter, debris trapping and infections make surgery necessary. Exostosis is most commonly treated by a surgical procedure to remove the growth.

There are two different approaches to the surgery, the first uses a small incision behind the ear and the excess bone growth is removed using a surgical drill, and the second uses a drill to remove the bone growth from inside of the ear canal itself.. After the surgery, it is important for the patient to avoid any cold water activities for 2-6 weeks in order to prevent complications or infections.


Custom made ear plugs are very useful in preventing the formation of exostoses in the ear. There is good evidence to suggest that using ear protection will significantly lower the chances of developing exostoses.