Fast Facts

Contact the surgeon if you suspect an ear infection within 2 weeks before surgery; if the ear is infected on the day of surgery, the surgery is less likely to work and will be cancelled.

Don’t get the ear wet until fully healed; this may take 2 months.

Take 1-2 weeks off to recover. This includes sport/work/study.

Don’t remove any dressings from the ear while recovering.

What is this for and is it effective?

Exposure to cold water or cold air for many hours over years causes growth of hard bony lumps in the ear canals. Water can get caught behind these lumps, causing blocked ear or infection after swimming.

Surgery aims to make the ear canal a normal shape and size again by removing the hard bony growths while preserving the delicate structures within and around the ear.

Severe left ear exostoses - before surgery
Severe left ear exostoses - before surgery
Left ear exostoses - postop
Left ear exostoses - postop

Frequently Asked Questions

What could go wrong? Is there a chance that surgery could make me worse?

Temporary side effects:   

  • 1:30 people feel sick or vomit after surgery. Two preventive drugs are given during surgery and more can be given if needed.
  • 1:50 people have an infection after surgery and need antibiotic tablets or ear drops.
  • Tinnitus (noise in the ear) may be temporarily better, worse or remain the same.
  • 1:25 people have problems healing or scar tissue causing narrowing of the ear canal needing minor procedures in the consulting room.
  • 1:50 people have pain due to irritation of the jaw joint.
  • A small hole or perforation of the ear drum can occur during surgery. This is usually repaired at the time of surgery. Occasionally a second operation is required to repair the hole.
  • The skin around the ear can feel numb or like pins and needles for a few months.

Permanent side effects: 

  • 1:1000 people have permanent drop in hearing after surgery.
  • <1:1000 people have facial muscle weakness after surgery.
  • Dr Clancy hasn’t had either of these complications for her patients.
Could I need more surgery or treatment in the future?

Yes. The bone can regrow or the skin of the ear canal can narrow down again over time and need more surgery. The best prevention against the bone growing back is to use ear plugs for swimming or surfing in cold water. Sometimes scar tissue in the ear canal needs to be stretched or removed.

What are the alternatives to surgery? Are they appropriate for me?

This operation is elective; that means it is up to you decide whether or not you want to have surgery.

What if I choose not to have surgery?

If the exostoses are small, not causing water retention, wax impaction or infection, then it is safe to choose not to have surgery. You would simply need to keep using an ear plug to keep cold water out of the ear when swimming and surfing.

See should I have surgery for more information.

How should I prepare for surgery?

Have a hearing test and CT scan of the ears before surgery.

If an infection starts within two weeks of your surgery date, contact your surgeon to have the ear cleaned and start a course of antibiotic drops and continue until the time of surgery.

Stop using any supplements and medications that increase bleeding (like Nurofen) one week before surgery and follow the fasting instructions provided by the hospital.

Stop smoking. Smokers are more likely to have side effects including heart and breathing complications, increased pain and bleeding and take longer to heal. The longer you have stopped smoking, the safer the surgery will be for you. If you smoke on the day of surgery, your surgery will be cancelled. Ask your surgeon for a Quit pack if needed. The nurses can help with nicotine patches while you are in hospital.

See preparing for surgery for more information.

When will I come into hospital? How long will the operation take? How long will I stay in hospital?

You will come into hospital on the day of surgery. The operation takes 1-3 hours depending on the size and shape of the bony growth, the ear canal and the jaw joint. You will go home the same day or the next day.

How long will I need off work/school/sport?

You should not drive, operate heavy machinery or make big decision for at least 24 hours after a general anaesthetic or on any day when taking strong pain killers. You need one to two weeks off work, sport and study.

Will I be awake or asleep for the operation? What kind of anaesthetic will I have?

Adults always have a general anaesthetic for this procedure. See anaesthesia for more information.

How will I feel after surgery?

You will have a bandage around your head for 24 hours. There will be a dressing like a plug in the ear canal for several weeks; this will make the ear feel blocked and damp. You may have mild pain in the jaw with chewing. Pain lasts for a few days and is usually mild. The skin around the ear can feel numb or like pins and needles for a few months.

What do I need to do to recover well?

The better you eat, the better you heal. Aim to eat as normally as possible, including vegetables and solid food as well as drinking water.

Keep the ear completely dry. Don’t blow the nose hard, pop the ear or travel by plane until the surgeon advises you the ear is fully healed.

Don’t remove any dressings from the ear canal or behind the ear. Apply ear drops twice a day to the dressings in the ear canal.

Swimming or getting the ear wet can make it harder for the skin in the ear canal to heal. Avoiding swimming until the ear is fully healed will get the best result for you. This usually takes 4 weeks but can take up to 8 weeks. The surgeon can show you how to use a large piece of Blue Tac on the outside of the ear to keep water out for showering.

View more information on ear plugs
How to use an ear plug for swimming
How to use BluTac as an ear plug
How to use ear drops

Returning to the water early: in 2017 Dr Clancy is studying the effects of returning to the water a week after surgery, compared to no water exposure until the ear is fully healed. If you would like to try to get back to swimming and surfing earlier, please discuss with Dr Clancy.

When will I see the surgeon?

The surgeon will check on you in the recovery room and the next day, if you stay overnight. You will see the surgeon one week after surgery then every 1-2 weeks until fully healed.

You may have a hearing test 3 months after surgery.

What should I do if I need help or advice?

You can ring the surgeon or practice nurse during business hours on 55605411. For non emergency advice outside business hours, ring the nurse at the hospital where you had surgery. For urgent care outside business hours, attend your nearest emergency department.

Click here for information about Dr Clancy’s on call schedule.

Is there any more information specific to my situation?

Your surgeon will take into consideration your work, sports/hobbies, support at home and other health problems as well as past reactions or complications with anaesthesia and surgery.

Your surgeon will answer any specific questions you ask.

After major ear surgery

You need one to two weeks off work (or school/kinder/day-care), sport and study. You should not drive for at least 24 hours after a general anaesthetic or on any day when taking strong pain killers. You won’t be able to swim or travel by plane until the ear is completely healed. This can take up to three months.

What do I need to do to recover well?
  • The better you eat, the better you heal. Aim to eat as normally as possible, including vegetables and solid food as well as drinking water.
  • Rest sitting up or reclining at 45 degrees to reduce pressure and swelling.
  • Keep the ear completely dry. Don’t insert an ear plug until the surgeon tells you it is safe to do so.
  • Don’t blow the nose hard, pop the ear, swim or travel by plane until the surgeon advises you the ear is fully healed.
  • Don’t remove any dressings from the ear canal or behind the ear. Apply Ciloxan ear drops, 5 drops twice a day onto the dressings in the ear canal.
  • You may need to take an antibiotic tablet (Augmentin DF one tablet twice a day for 10 days or Keflex one tablet twice a day for 10 days).
  • For pain, take paracetamol 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours as needed (no more than 8 tablets per day). If pain persists, add Endone 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours as needed.

View more information on ear plugs
How to use an ear plug for swimming
How to use BluTac as an ear plug
How to use ear drops

What is normal? How will I feel after surgery?
  • You will have a bandage around your head for 24 hours. There will be a dressing like a plug in the ear canal for several weeks; this will make the ear feel blocked. There will be mild blood stained or watery discharge for 2 weeks from the ear canal.
  • You may have mild pain in the temple or with chewing. Pain lasts for a few days and is usually mild.
  • You may notice temporary change in taste on one side of the tongue.
  • The skin around the ear will feel numb or like pins and needles for weeks to months after surgery.
  • You may have nausea or vertigo for a few days after surgery. Take care to steady yourself and get up slowly.
  • Tinnitus (noise in the ear) may be temporarily better, worse or remain the same.
What is not normal?

Contact your surgeon if you have:

  • vomiting or vertigo/head spins lasting more than a few hours,
  • severe pain not relieved by the prescribed pain relief,
  • fever >38 degrees for more than 24 hours,
  • swelling behind the ear,
  • pus running out of the ear,
  • headache, neck stiffness, eye pain on looking at light.

In an emergency, call an ambulance or attend your nearest hospital emergency department.

When will I see the surgeon?

The surgeon will check on you in the recovery room and on the ward before you go home from hospital. You will see the surgeon one week after surgery then every 1-2 weeks until fully healed. You will have a hearing test 3 months after surgery. Once the ear is fully healed you will see the surgeon every 6-12 months.

What should I do if I need help or advice?

You can ring the surgeon or practice nurse during business hours on 55605411. For non emergency advice outside business hours, ring the nurse at the hospital where you had surgery. For urgent care outside business hours, attend your nearest emergency department.

Click here for information about Dr Clancy’s on call schedule.

Is there any more information specific to my situation?

The surgeon will list any information specific to you.