KIDS
May 31, 2011

Preventing Swimmer's Ear

The CDC says treatment for swimmer's ear costs $500 million each year. How you can prevent it.

The CDC reports that swimmer’s ear costs the nation a half a billion dollars – that's $500,000,000 – each year. And if you think of it as a kid’s affliction, think again. The CDC says that more than 50% of all cases occur in adults over the age of 20.

Swimmer’s ear happens when water gets trapped in the ear, making a perfect place for bacteria to settle in and cause infection. Spending a lot of time in the water, especially in hot, humid climates public pools are the worst – ups one’s risk for developing the affliction considerably.

Though a simple course of antibiotics will clear swimmers' ear up, it’s easier (and cheaper) to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The CDC looked at data from massive national health databases, and determined the number of outpatient cases of swimmer’s ear and their average cost. In 2007, they calculated that 1 in 123 Americans sought medical help for swimmer’s ear, which is equivalent to about 2.4 million cases per year. Since the average cost of each case was about $200, the total expenditure was upwards of half a billion dollars.

Not surprisingly, almost half of all cases happened during the summer months, and the greatest number of cases was reported in the Southern states. Though a simple course of antibiotics will clear swimmers' ear up, it’s easier (and cheaper) to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Michael Beach, PhD, the CDC's associate director for healthy water, said that "[m]ost people think of swimmer's ear as a mild condition that quickly goes away, but this common infection is responsible for millions of illnesses and substantial medical costs each year. By taking simple steps before and after swimming or coming in contact with water, people can greatly reduce their risk of this painful infection."

The CDC offers some tips to prevent swimmer’s ear from occurring in the first place:

  • Dry your ears as soon as possible after showering or swimming
  • Don’t remove ear wax yourself or put foreign objects in the ear, since both can aggravate the skin and lead to infection
  • Tilt your head and gently pull the earlobe in different directions to help water escape.
  • Discuss the use of alcohol-based drops after swimming with your doctor

The CDC report was released on May 19, 2011.

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