Exostosis is the medical term for an abnormal growth of bone within the ear canal. More commonly it is known as swimmer’s or surfer’s ear. The most common cause of exostosis is repeated exposure to cold water and wind which causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to thicken to defend the inner ear. This creates constriction in the ear canal, sometimes to the point of complete blockage (known as “occlusion”) which can lead to hearing loss. Surfers and swimmers aren’t the only ones at risk, an exostosis growth can result from any activity that exposes the participant to cold water or wet conditions and wind. Skiing, diving, fishing, boating/sailing/kayaking or diving all have the potential to pose this risk.

Surfer's Ear Diagram

Symptoms include loss of hearing possibly combined with frequent and painful ear infections. Early symptoms include water trapping in the ear canal. As the condition progresses, debris/earwax may get trapped along with water and cause infection making surgery mandatory. Exostosis is most commonly treated by a surgical procedure to remove the growth(s). Traditionally the surgery has involved an incision behind the ear and a surgical drill to chisel out the excess bone growth. This method caused scarring and resulted in a longer recovery time.

Dr. Alavi is the only physician in Ventura County who is an expert in a minimally invasive procedure that uses a micro-chisel via the ear canal reducing the patient’s recovery time and leaving no scars behind the ear. Dr. Alavi has successfully performed this surgery on hundreds of patients. Surgery is the only known option for this condition and left untreated the patient may suffer irreparable damage and hearing loss.

The procedure is done on an outpatient basis in our office – no hospital visit and patients can go home the same day. It is usually not too painful following surgery and that most patients return to work within 2-3 days. During recovery, water can not be allowed to enter the ear canal – meaning no swimming or surfing. The ear canal is packed to prevent any moisture from reaching the surgery site, this is removed one week after the surgery on your followup visit. After recovery, ear plugs should be worn to prevent future exposure and overgrowth of the bone tissue.