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Calling all Cold Water Athletes - Do you Swim, Surf or Kayak? Sligo University Hospital has some advice for you!

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 explains, “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.

“We really need to get the message out now about the importance of protecting your ears when in cold water, before it is too late.

“Research shows that Surfer’s Ear is most likely in exposure to cold water below 19deg – this is colder than the peak Irish water temperatures in August which range from 13 to 17deg.

“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.

“Over the past year, we have been carrying out research at Sligo University Hospital and our findings to date show 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.

“My advice to everyone enjoying the open water is to use ear plugs. The majority of studies show that ear protection reduces the risk of developing surfer’s ear. Many people only start wearing ear plugs when they develop problems. Start now - your ears will thank you for it.”

Prof Nash Patil, Consultant ENT Surgeon at Sligo University Hospital added, “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.”

For more information on Surfer’s Ear, visit

Image from RTÉ coverage of Surfer’s Ear - “Athletes in open water urged to wear ear protection”. To view the video, go to:

The article above is specific to the following Saolta hospitals:: 
Sligo University Hospital (SUH)