When you think of the dangers inherent in the sport of surfing, you probably think of fins and large teeth and not abnormal growth of bone in the surfer’s outer ear canal. The medical term for this bone growth is exostosis, or exostoses if found in both ears. In layman’s terms, it is known as surfer’s ear. It’s called this because the most common cause of exostoses is frequent exposure to cold wind and water, making this a condition that often affects surfers. Research has found that these bony outgrowths are more common in surfers who spend a lot of time in cold water. It isn’t just surfers who suffer from this condition, though. Other sports that cause exposure to cold water or cold air can have the same effect. For instance, kayakers, divers and avid skiers may have the same condition with long-term exposure of the ear canal to cold temperatures.
How Does It Happen?
Exostoses will occur with extended exposure to cold. This can be cold water or cold wind. The outer one third of the ear canal is cartilage but the inner two thirds is bone. Ongoing exposure to cold temperatures causes the bone of the ear canal to thicken to protect the eardrum against the cold. Exostoses develop very slowly over time and are not necessarily harmful by themselves. In fact, many people who have exostoses are unaware of their presence. Extreme growth of bone in the ear canal can cause constriction of the ear canal though, making it difficult for water to drain out and it extreme cases, it can cause hearing loss. It’s also possible that earwax and other debris cannot migrate out of the ear canal normally. When debris becomes trapped behind the exostoses, painful and repeated ear infections may occur or the trapped debris keeps sound from getting to the eardrum, causing the person with the exostoses to feel like their hearing has decreased.
Is There a Solution?
For most of those who have exostoses, there is no need for a resolution. Most don’t even know that they have the extra bone growth in their ear canals and never have any issues. If the exostoses start to cause trouble, a surgical procedure to remove the excess bone can be performed as an out-patient procedure. The procedure is fairly simple and doesn’t require much recuperation.
In order to keep exostoses from returning or from getting worse, earplugs can be worn. Custom earplugs can be made very easily and are generally more comfortable than earplugs that can be purchased over the counter because they are made to fit your ear canal specifically.
If you are interested in learning more about exostoses or are interested in protecting your ear canals from the cold, make an appointment with your hearing healthcare provider today.
Logically, it makes sense: those who have worked around high noise levels for many years and have trouble hearing must have a hearing loss that is caused strictly by noise exposure at work, right?
In actuality, other factors can play a role in how much hearing loss a person will have over the course of their lifetime. For example, certain health factors can make one person more susceptible to injurious noise than another. Smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure, for instance, can increase the amount of hearing loss suffered from over exposure to noise. The accumulation of birthdays, a.k.a, getting older, can also be a factor in the amount of hearing loss a person may have. Genetics can also play a part. So, the cause of one person’s hearing loss will depend on many different factors. This is also why two people can work in the same company for the same length of time doing similar jobs and have very different hearing losses.
When hearing loss is due to an over-exposure to noise, a very predictable pattern of hearing loss as well as a predictable degree of hearing loss will emerge. The amount of loss a person will experience is based on how loud the noise was during the actual exposure itself and how long the exposure lasted. Long- term studies have been completed with the help of individuals who experienced up to 40 years of sustained noise exposure and with varying levels of noise exposure. The people involved with the studies had a hearing test every year. The results provided a means of determining the pattern, type and severity of hearing loss that is typical of long-term noise exposure based on the number of years that noise was experienced and the loudness of the noise itself. Researchers found that hearing loss from over exposure to noise causes a predictable and progressive loss of hearing as long as the person continued to be exposed to that noise without the protection that proper earplugs or ear muffs provide.
Interestingly, once someone stops working around noise, the progression of the hearing loss can stop all together. If hearing loss keeps progressing after a person leaves the noisy job, the change is not from the past noise exposure, it’s from the other factors of health and lifestyle.
If you think you have hearing loss due to noise exposure, there are two things to do right away: First, make sure to invest in good ear protection. Using ear protection in any instance of loud noise will make sure that you do not experience more hearing loss due to noise exposure. Second, make an appointment for a hearing evaluation. Because hearing loss due to noise exposure can progress over time, you may be unaware of how much you may be missing. We’ll be glad to test your hearing and make suggestions on how to best protect your ears from further damage and make suggestions for better hearing, too.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) can happen at any age. Researchers estimate that 10 million Americans suffer from permanent hearing loss caused by noise. Loud sounds can cause long-term damage to the tiny sensory hair cells called cilia (pronounced silly-uh) in the cochlea, which is our hearing organ. In some cases, those exposed to loud noise may only experience a temporary loss of sensitivity to sound. In other instances, either by repeated noise exposure or by a one-time excessively loud exposure to sound, a permanent hearing loss will occur.
Permanent hearing loss caused by loud noise exposure not only makes it difficult to hear, but speech can sound unclear as well, making it difficult at times to have a conversation with friends or family. Additionally, loud sounds can cause ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears, which is called tinnitus. Tinnitus can be annoying to those who experience it and unfortunately, it is permanent in most cases of NIHL.
So, how much is too much?
Once sounds reach 85 decibels (about as loud as a gas-powered lawn mower), exposure to the sound without ear protection can only last for approximately 8 hours without it causing damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlea. Each time the sound is increased by 3 decibels, the amount of time that someone can safely be exposed to that sound without fear of permanent damage is cut in half. By the time the sound reaches 100 decibels, the safe exposure time limit is about 15 minutes. 100 decibels is about as loud as a chainsaw.
Protect your ears
So, what can you do about it? Start by having your hearing tested. It’s always a good idea to have a baseline in order to monitor any changes to your hearing that might happen in the future. And, you may be unaware of how much you may be missing already. Second, make sure to invest in good ear protection. Using ear protection in any instance of loud noise will make sure that you do not experience more hearing loss due to noise exposure. Your audiologist can make a suggestion about which of the different types of custom hearing protection products designed for a variety of noisy environments are best for you.
Call us today to schedule your hearing exam. We’ll be glad to test your hearing, make suggestions on how to best protect your ears from further damage and make suggestions for better hearing, too. We care about your ears and are glad to help in any way we can.