Exostectomy (Surfer’s Ear)


In temperate climates, surfers and others who indulge in frequent water sports, are prone to develop bony growths within the ear canal that lead to blockage and infection. Eventually, a ‘drill-out’ is necessary.


Dr Wallace recommends Exostectomy surgery for the following reasons:

  • Chronic persistent blockage of the ear canal due to overgrowth of bone
  • Associated problems of water or swimming related ear infections
  • Associated problems of hearing disability


This surgery is associated with a very low risk of complications. The specific risks of Exostectomy of which you should be aware are:

  • An infection is uncommon during the recovery period but will respond to antibiotic treatment and will not adversely affect the success of the operation.
  • For approximately 1 patient in about 100, there can be some degree of injury to the eardrum but this is usually healed by the time the ear canal itself has healed leaving no deficit.
  • For approximately 1 patient in 1000, some degree of permanent high frequency hearing loss and tinnitus can follow this operation.


General anaesthesia is the routine for this operation. The procedure takes approximately 90 minutes.


The operation is done either through the ear canal or, more commonly, with a releasing incision in front of the ear. The bony growths are removed with a diamond drill under constant irrigation and suction. Incisions are closed with 2 or 3 sutures and the ear canal filled with antibiotic ointment.


The need for pain relief is minimal. Paracetemol or a combination with Codeine is usually sufficient. The majority of patients go home on the day of surgery. An office review appointment is made for 1 week after surgery when sutures are removed together with some of the ear canal dressing. The ear needs to kept dry for up to 6 weeks. One or two more post-op. appointments are made until healing is complete and water sports can be resumed.


Exostectomy surgery is reliably effective but continuous water sports inevitably it leads to bony regrowth. The use of earplugs may prevent this regrowth. Without earplugs, regrowth can become problematic again after 10-15 years.