There has been a huge rise in the number of people in Ireland getting involved in open water sports such as surfing, kayaking, triathlons and open water swimming.

This time of year sees even more people participating in sports like this, but what few of them are aware of is the hidden danger of a condition called Surfer's Ear.

Now a doctor in Sligo, Dr Seamus Boyle, who is himself involved in sea sports, is on a mission to raise awareness of the condition and inform people how to prevent it.

Dr Boyle, whose research is being supported by the Irish Institute of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, has been been studying surfer's ear and holding clinics to find out the extent of the problem. He is also working to spread the word on how to prevent it.

Exostoses, or Surfer's Ear, isn't just a threat to surfers, all open water athletes are at risk of developing it.

It involves bony growths developing in the ear canal due to repeated exposure to cold water and wind.

Initial symptoms can be recurrent ear infections, water trapping and a feeling of fullness in the ear according to Dr Boyle, but over time, he says, if the disease is left to develop it can totally obstruct the ear and leave a person with no hearing.

However, a further difficulty with the condition is that there may be no obvious symptoms for years and people will be totally unaware that the disease is developing.

A case of surfer's ear shows the effect on the ear canal

Dr Boyle says the bottom line is that people have to protect their ears by using ear plugs, even in summer time when the water is still cold.

Dr Boyle said: "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."

Further information on the condition can be found at www.saolta.ie/ears