Context: External auditory canal exostoses (EACE) are bony formations that develop insidiously in the auditory meatus from chronic exposure to cold water and, in severe cases, require surgery. This condition has been understudied in the whitewater kayakers and not yet studied in the riverboarding population. Precautions such as earplugs are thought to prevent the formation of EACE because they mechanically block cold water from contacting the sensitive skin in the external auditory canal; however, earplugs are not commonly utilized by athletes. Inquiring about hobbies and the use of protective equipment can be done during osteopathic physicians’ preventive care visits.
Objectives: This article aims to determine the prevalence of EACE in Colorado whitewater athletes and their attitudes about wearing ear protection before and after an educational intervention directed at increasing awareness and prevention of EACE.
Methods: In July 2020, participants of this cross-sectional study completed a 10-min survey that collected demographics, whitewater experience, and perceptions of EACE, followed by an educational intervention. Participant ears were photographed utilizing a digital otoscope to assess EACE, and severity ratings were categorized into one of four occlusion levels: none (0%), mild (<25%), moderate (25–75%), or severe (>75%). Spearman correlation coefficients and Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were utilized to assess changes in attitudes before and after the educational intervention.
Results: Eighty-one participants (mean [SD] age = 36.3 [12.6] years, 25.9% female) completed the study: 74 kayakers and seven riverboarders. After the intervention, 60.5% (49/81) (p<0.001) reported greater understanding of EACE and 75.0% (60/80) were more likely to wear ear protection (p<0.001). Most (58.0%, 47/81) never wore ear protection. Of the 61 (75.0%) participants with at least one ear severity rating, most (55.7%, 34/61) had moderate EACE, 29.5% (18/61) had no to mild EACE, and 14.8% (9/61) had severe EACE (p<0.001). Impaired hearing was the biggest barrier to utilizing ear protection (51.6%, 33/64).
Conclusions: Our results suggested that the educational intervention improved understanding of EACE and may increase utilization of ear protection in this population. Such prevention efforts may lead to better health of whitewater paddlers by reducing the incidence of EACE. Encouraging osteopathic physicians to inquire about hobbies and protective equipment during primary care preventive visits is essential to help keep athletes in the river doing what they love for longer, contributing to a healthier and happier whole person.