Over the past few years I have seen a lot of articles, blog posts, websites and forums discussing the problem of Surfers Ear in kayaking. Surfer’s ear or Exostosis (abnormal bone growth within the ear canal) is a problem caused by repeated exposure of the inside of the ear, to cold water which occurs when water gets into the ear canal as a result of play boating or capsizes. If it is left untreated it can result in hearing loss and painful infections. Treatment involves the drilling or chiselling of the bone growths to remove them which is usually done under general anaesthetic. (Google it if you want to find out more about how horrible it is)
Another risk from kayaking is perforated ear drums which can cause permeant hearing loss and significant pain and carry the risk of infection.
Ear plugs are the best way of preventing surfer’s ear and also offer a good deal of protection against perforated ear drums. However I have found the cheap ones you can buy in shops just fall out as soon as you fall in. I saw custom ones being fitted at Wet West Paddle Fest’ last year however they were extortionately expensive to have, what looked like bathroom sealant, squeezed into your ear.
I considered if it was worth trying exactly that (making some out of bathroom sealant) however I decided against the idea due to the risk of an embarrassing A&E visit to have stuck sealant removed. I therefore gave up on the idea for a while (while still worrying about it regularly).
Recently however, I came across a solution. I found a product called Sugru which is a mould-able silicon rubber which comes in little (5g) packets which cures to a solid rubbery material (which I believe is very similar to the end result of the very expensive custom ones. It adheres to most materials and I therefore decided to get some (8 x 5g packets) which cost £12.99 on Amazon (link in materials list). Through a little trial and error I managed to create my own custom ear plugs (see below) which fit really comfortably in my ear and do not fall out easily.
Here is instruction on how to use Sugru to make custom ear plugs.
You need a bit of time to let them set in your ear so leave around 3 hours for each ear plug that you dont need to be able to hear out of one ear.
Obtain all the necessary materials listed below.
Sugru (2 x 5g Packets) – £12.99 for 8, http://goo.gl/938tf0
Strong Cling Film or Sandwich bag cut up
String – Thin 1-3mm thick synthetic cord works best
Few drops of olive oil – a dropper will help with this but not essential
Cut a 3cm length of string. Tie it in a small loop as shown in the picture as this will help the Sugru bond to the string prevent it from coming loose.
Small loop of string
Cut a small bit of cling film off the roll or a bit of sandwich bag (10cm x 10cm) in the middle of the plastic, on one side put a few drops of oil and spread it around the middle of the cling film. This will aid the removal of the ear plugs once they have set.
Remove the Sugru from 1 of the packets and squash it together into a slight rounded cone shape as shown in the picture below. Cut a small slit in the bottom of the cone and insert around half of the loop of the string into the slit before squeezing it back together sealing the string into the rubber. This will form an attachment point for a string to stop you losing them if you take them out on the river.
Right ear plug Pre insertion
Left ear plug pre insertion
Place the cling film over your ear with the olive oil covered side facing your ear centred over your ear hole. Take the cone of Sugru and slowly push the tip of it into your ear (with the cling film between it and your skin). Push it in to your ear and squash it into the shape of the inside of your ear. I used a the flat end of a pen to push the Sugru in deeper for a better fit. Squash the excess Sugru into the area surrounding your ear hole to help it stay in place when it is finished. It should not fall out if you shake your head while it is tipped on its side. Take care during this stage to ensure that the loop will still work as a fixing point on the finished ear plug.
Sugru Post insertion
Let the Sugru cure for around 3 hours taking care not to let your ears or the Sugru touch anything. After it has partially cured the ear plugs can be removed by carefully pulling on the cling film around the sugru. It should slide out fairly easily. Peel of the plastic and carefully place the ear plugs somewhere they will not be disturbed and leave for a further 24h. Attach string to the loops and you are good to go. It is worth writing on the ear plugs which is left and which is right as they will only fit properly in the correct ears. I used two different colours to aid differentiation between them. Below is pictures of the finished product. I have yet to test them on the river however they stay in while in the shower even when I tip my head on one side and shake it. I will update this post after NSR as to how they preform while play boating.
I hope that this will aid people who up until now, like me could find no affordable solution to preventing surfers ear and protecting against perforated ear drums. If you found this helpful and as a result of saving money on custom ear plugs, can now afford to, please donate a wee bit of money to my expedition to Madagascar this summer using the link below.
Finished ear plugs