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5 Surfing Diseases You Can Get from Ocean Water

by Cristina Costea

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In a perfect world, surfing wouldn’t pose any dangers at all, save for the odd shark that’s minding its own business in its natural environment. But unfortunately, we’re not living in a perfect world and our oceans aren’t as clean and as disease free as we would want them to be. 

There is plenty of nasty bacteria floating around in there that can pose real health risks to humans, there are cold waters that can wreak havoc on our ears, and let’s not forget about viruses! Surfers expose themselves to various pathogens and today we are going to take a look at some of the most common diseases that you can get from surfing.


Surfer’s Ear

Surfer’s ear is a condition where the bone grows inside the ear canal, causing pain and discomfort. The disease is brought on by exposure to cold waters and it can successfully be prevented by using ear plugs. If you are going to surf in cold water, we highly recommend using plugs as they’re much cheaper than the surgery you need to remove the bone growth from inside your ear. Unfortunately, surgery is the only way to get rid of the nasty bone.


Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear should not be confused with surfer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear is actually an infection of the ear caused by water being trapped inside the ear canal. The bacteria that usually lives on our skin and inside our ears get trapped in the water and multiplies with no way to go. This causes inflammation, infection, and pain. Along with these symptoms, there can also be fever, swollen lymph nodes, and if left untreated it can potentially cause permanent hearing loss or damage to the ear canal.

How can you prevent swimmer’s ear? Try to keep your ears as dry as possible, use ear plugs and avoid using cotton buds, as they are quite bad for you. 


Stomach Flu

Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is a disease caused by various bacteria and viruses found ocean water, among other places. When you swallow ocean water, you’re letting plenty of microorganisms inside you, including bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli and viruses, such as the rotavirus. While stomach flu isn’t life threatening, it is quite unpleasant, causing diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, and even headaches. Treat it with lots of fluids, bed rest, and a break from surfing.


surfing diseases


Skin Conditions

There are plenty of skin conditions you can get by surfing in dirty waters. To be honest, there are plenty of skin conditions you can get just by being in ocean water. From seaweed dermatitis to sea bather’s eruption to good old sunburn. If you know your skin is particularly sensitive, talk to your doctor about what you can do to protect it when you’re surfing. And never, ever forget to wear sunscreen! Reapply often and in much larger quantities than you might think you need.



Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is a condition that causes the conjunctiva of the eye (the clear film that covers the inside of the lids and the white part of the eyes) to become inflamed. To blame for this are viruses, bacteria, and various irritants. While pinkeye isn’t a serious condition, left untreated it can cause scarring of the cornea and even loss of sight. The disease can be somewhat avoided by not wearing contact lenses at the beach because bacteria and dirt can be trapped under it and encourage the inflammation of the conjunctiva.

Pinkeye caused by viruses is highly contagious, so that might be just the one you can get from ocean water. Keep an eye out for the symptoms and go to your doctor as soon as you notice something wrong with your eyes.


It’s our duty to work towards preserving our environment and cleaning up our oceans. Check out Oceana and see what you can do to help our oceans.


We hope this didn’t make you weary of taking a dip in the ocean. We recommend you take precautions, but don’t be afraid to try new things, go to a surf camp in Portugal, get that awesome surfboard you’ve been wanting to get. Life’s too short to be afraid of the water!

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