Getting used to surfing in cold water has its challenges. I thought I had finally gotten all the equipment I needed to be able to paddle out in safety, with the goal to avoid hypothermia.
I bought booties, gloves, I have a 4/3mm wetsuit. I started taking better care of my hair from being in the high salinity ocean! I really thought I had it all down.
Well. Nope. I started getting mild ear infections. I'm going to talk about three things that can effect the health of your ears.
I love surfing on big wave days, and where I go, the waves get bigger when it's pretty stormy out.
After it rains, the run-off water from cities into the ocean leaves the water with more bacteria than before. The water is just dirty. In certain cities this might be more evident, but sadly I just was not paying attention.
The more bacteria that is in the water, the more foreign bacteria enters your ear. This increases the likelihood that you will be risking an ear infection. And me being me, I wasn't wearing any ear plugs on my post stormy days (and even once when I went out while it was actively raining). This was a big factor in why my ears started flaring up.
A second factor in why my ears started acting up is because of the change in temperature when getting out of the ocean. Right now the water where I surf is around 50 degrees (F). Thats really fucking cold. The change in temperature creates almost a vacuum and can keep the water trapped in your ear (my Dr. told me this!). The longer the water stays in your ear, the longer foreign bacteria stays in your ear.
ALSO, this last one is a condition that can from repeat exposure to cold water in the ear (hopefully I don't have this!) for prolonged time. Surfers ear! So this is still a big mystery, but prolonged exposure to cold water in the ear canal leads to the bones actually growing. This creates more crannies for dirty water to live, and reduces the likelihood for the water to drain out properly. Many people end up having surgery to correct this.
So what do these mild ear infections feel like, you ask? Well it feels like theres this constant pressure in my ear. My first instinct is to try to create a vacuum using my finger to flush it out. But that just leaves the skin more irritated, and thus more potential for more infection. I also get tinnitus (sharp ringing noises) in the affected ear. It's super fun when trying to fall asleep and it sounds like a gong was just hit next to my left ear. I am constantly trying to "pop" my ears, by holding my nose and blowing out through my ears. But it just doesn't work.
So I now have ear plugs. This does 2 things: Keeps excess water out of my ears, and limits the chance for foreign bacteria to make a home. It will also keep the water that does make it into my ear at body temperature to limit the chance of developing surfers ear in the future.
I also now have antibiotic drops I have to put into my ear twice a day. I also got a prescription for Debrox to help dry out my ear after I get out of the water to help reduce the chance of these recurring infections. Debrox can be bought without a prescription, so I definitely recommend if you feel like you could be surfing in not the cleanest of places, or just to minimize risk in general.
Please learn from my mistakes and please do your best to avoid infections. They are not fun.