As the summer approaches and more people take to open water, Dr Seamus Boyle who works in the ENT Department at Sligo University Hospital is on a mission to create greater awareness of Surfer’s Ear.
The condition, which can affect everyone who is exposed to cold water over time, causes bony growths to develop in the ear canals and can lead to repeated ear infections and even hearing loss. The advice on protecting your ears is very simple - wear ear plugs.
Dr Seamus Boyle said: "There has been a dramatic increase in people participating in open water sports such as open water swimming, triathlon and kayaking. It is fantastic that more and more people are enjoying the lakes and sea swimming locations around our coasts.
"I know from my own experience as a kayaker, triathlete and open water swimmer that most people don’t know about Surfer’s Ear and aren’t taking the steps to prevent it. In addition to the lack of awareness, the condition can take 10 to 15 years to develop so anyone who has taken up open water sports recently won’t feel the impact for years to come."
He said that it was important to get the message out there so that people protect their ears in cold water.
“Research shows that Surfer’s Ear is most likely in exposure to cold water below 19 degrees – this is colder than the peak Irish water temperatures in August which range from 13 to 17degrees. Previous studies have shown that there is an awareness of Surfer’s Ear among surfers, but there have been no published studies on awareness among non-surfers in Ireland."
He said that over the course of the past year, the medical team have been carrying out research at Sligo University Hospital and have found that only 40% of non-surfers knew about Surfer’s ear: "I really don’t want people to find out about Surfer’s ear when they arrive in to a hospital clinic. At that stage it may be too late to prevent serious problems."
He urged everyone to use ear plugs in open water.
Prof Nash Patil, Consultant ENT Surgeon at Sligo University Hospital said: “We provide a regional ENT service to the people of the North West and we are focused on driving research and further education to benefit our patients. This research project by Dr Boyle and the ENT team looked at determining awareness of Surfer’s Ear among water athletes, investigating the prevalence of Surfer’s Ear and raising awareness of the condition and the importance of protecting your ears. It is valuable health advice and I would encourage everyone to use ear plugs. If you have concerns about your ears, whether a cold water athlete or not, get them checked by your GP. If further tests are needed, your GP will refer you on to us.”