Exostoses are bony outgrowths of the external auditory canal. They typically line both the front and back of the canal causing narrowing, which can be severe. Exostoses occur more often in people exposed to cold water and wind, such as surfers and divers (Hence the name “surfer’s ear”).
Initially exostoses don’t usually cause any symptoms. As they grow, they begin to block the external auditory canal, trapping water. This leads to infections, (otitis externa) and because of the altered shape of the ear canal, these infections can be more difficult to treat. If you have exostoses and get recurring infections, you might be a candidate for surgical removal of the exostoses. Rarely, exostoses will cause a conductive hearing loss because of blockage of the ear canal. In these cases, surgery can help to correct the hearing loss. Surfers or swimmers predisposed to exostoses should consider wearing earplugs. Patients who have significant external canal exostoses without recurrent infection or hearing loss should be observed and have their ear canals cleaned periodically.