With my thirtieth birthday slowly creeping up on me and having spent the last 13 years of my life chasing a kayakers dream of throwing big move’s, running big drop’s and basically exploring different parts of the world I am currently on the receiving end of a condition I knew about but never took any action against, SURFERS EAR. My background in sport does not only involve kayaking, it ranges from Thai Boxing, Rugby, Mountain Biking and Hill Running to name just a fraction. I understand the importance of preparation and the importance of taking care of your body for longevity of a sporting career. With an honors degree in Physical Education and Sports Studies, I have spent countless hours looking at how sports athletes can make themselves stronger, faster and most importantly last longer. Especially people like us kayakers we generally get involved in this sport for the sheer love of the feelings it gives us, the noise of your hull echo after landing a big airscrew or landing a big boof.
I am writing this little blog to try and create some awareness to the young kayakers and anyone else involved in the outdoor industry to take care of their ears when on the water. I can remember a stage in my kayaking career where an influential kayaker mentioned the importance of wearing ear plugs to me so taking his advise I went and purchased some cheap plugs and tried to kayak with them in. Within 5 minutes on the water I took them out and never wore them again. I couldn't hear the water and it was so different I couldn't get used to it. So after that I never wore plugs till now! Yes over 10 years later. Here is a quick look at what Surfers ear is, which is taken from http://www.pamf.org/ENT/services/surfersear.html
Surfer's ear is a serious condition that affects hearing. Medically known as "exostosis of the external auditory canal," surfer's ear is caused by repeated exposure to cold water and wind. Cooling of the ear canal stimulates bone growth that narrows the canal and blocks the eardrum. This narrowing traps water and earwax in the canal, often resulting in painful ear infections and hearing loss.
Sounds pretty bad right! So right now I have ¾ closure of my left ear and ½ closure of my right ear. Not only does this tell me that I roll more on my left but it’s affecting me horribly in general life. I have only now started to feel the effects of this and it is way worse than I imagined. I have currently had an ear infection that has stopped me from sleeping, the pain started down my jaw line, all around my ear and within the ear. Not only that but I have had to stop kayaking due to the pain. Antibiotics, painkillers and quiet time by myself was a daily routine. Would you believe that this is not the worst of it? Because my ear is in such bad shape my left ear closed off totally and I lost hearing in it for over a week. My father has had an issue with his ears for as long as I can remember, basically he has very little hearing in one ear and that's it. I have always been aware of this but I can remember times in my life where I had to repeat myself to him and I got frustrated with it. Not in a malicious way but I just found it hard to understand why he couldn't hear me when I spoke loud and clear to him. This experience over the past week has put me in his shoes and it has hit home pretty hard. The loss of hearing in one of my ears made me, cranky, irritable, unhappy and a target for people to make a joke about. I know it didn't last very long but I promise you one day is too much. Background noise was the worst, I literally could not sit at a table of people and get involved in the conversation because I couldn't focus on one person talking. Working on the river was very hard, the constant noise of whitewater in the background made it almost impossible to hear people.
Topping all this off – I currently work on the White Nile in Uganda and I have so many places to go and kayak and explore. With my ear worsening I am in desperate need of the surfers ear operation.
Ideas to help you prevent Surfers ear.
· Bring a hat and wear it after you get off the water, wet ears and cold wind is not good.
· Wear earplugs. (Ones that are designed for cold water)
· Get your ears checked regularly.
· Wear ear plugs even in warm water.
The ear plugs I started with (Fig 1) were a general pair of plugs that was said to be designed to stop water getting into the ear. I can tell you now from experience they don't work!! Don't waist your money at 20 euros your better off buying a few beers out on a Saturday night!
After these I started to use blue tack (Fig 2). This was great, no water got in. The issue was I couldn't hear a bloody thing with it and when I took them out to hear and coach putting them back in was a nightmare and they didn't work very well because they were wet inside.
The set I am using at the moment are (Fig 3). These plugs are designed to fit my ears and were done by a company specifically focusing on these types of plugs.
I hope this blog has helped some people and maybe created awareness of what can happen down the line if you don't take precautions. This is my experience and is unique to me so don't take my word as gospel. One size does not fit all!
Happy paddling everyone.