Swimmer’s ear costs nearly $500 million in annual health care costs and accounts for close to 2.4 million in doctor visits annually, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“Most 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,” said Michael Beach, Ph.D., CDC’s associate
director for healthy water, in a press release. “By taking
simple steps before and after swimming or coming in contact with
water, people can greatly reduce their risk of this painful
According to the CDC, in 2007, 1 in 123 Americans went to the
doctor for swimmer’s ear. Between 2003 and 2007, rates of
doctor’s visits for swimmer's ear were highest in children
between the ages of 5 and 14 years. However, more than half of the
reported infections occurred in adults over age 20. People living
in the South had the highest regional rate of swimmer’s ear.
Cases peaked during the summer swimming season, with 44 percent of
cases occurring in June, July or August.
Swimmer’s ear, a completely preventable inflammation of the
inner ear, is generally caused by a bacterial infection. It was the
focus of this year’s annual Recreational Water Awareness
Week. It stands out from other recreational water illnesses because
it often causes intense ear pain so those who are affected will
typically see a doctor. With other recreational water illnesses
such as cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhea and stomach issue,
not everyone will see a doctor.
“When we looked at what’s been published in terms of
the data, we discovered that it’s a bigger problem that we
thought it was,” said Michele Hlavsa, an epidemiologist for
CDC’s Healthy Swimming, Waterbourne Disease Prevention
Between swimmer’s ear and other waterborne illnesses such as
crypto, the U.S. spends “hundreds of millions of dollars on
healthcare costs for illnesses caused by germs transmitted by water
(both recreational and drinking water),”according to
That number can be reduced if pool operators vigilantly maintain
good water quality.
“By maintaining good chlorine and pH levels you’re at
decreased risk of spreading germs in the water,” she adds.
Operators can also provide patrons with swimmer’s ear
prevention tips, available on the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Website.
To prevent swimmer’s ear the CDC recommends that swimmers
keep their ears as dry as possible by using earplugs or bathing
caps. Those prone to the condition can consult their physician
about using alcohol-based ear drops.