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Exostoses (Swimmers Ear)

Surgical Treatment of Exostoses, A Guide for Patients, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, The Australian Society of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

What is Exostoses?

Exostoses are bone growths within the ear canal as seen in the diagram. It is often called Swimmers or Surfer’s Ear due to the cause of exposure to cold water and air. Exostoses grow slowly over years, are multiple and constrict the ear canal, sometimes completely.


Ear symptoms are due to water trapping after water sports, often leading to repeated outer ear canal infections, pain and hearing loss.


Hearing loss, pain and ear infections may become chronic and severe requiring surgery. Surgery usually requires an incision behind the ear and the exostoses are removed using a drill.

Surgery requires an overnight or day case admission, a week off work and water avoidance for at least eight weeks.

Preventing Exostoses

It may be possible to reduce the progression of Exostoses by avoiding very cold water or wind. Custom ear plugs when swimming or surfing can be very useful.