Swimmer’s ear: Not just an inconvenience

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: August 26th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Swimmer’s ear might seem like a typical summertime annoyance, just like sunburn and mosquito bites. Most of us have experienced this outer ear infection at some point. But did you know this seemingly innocuous infection accounts for five-hundred million dollars in medical costs each year?

It’s true: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimmer’s ear accounts for more than two-point-four-million doctors’ visits each year in the United States.

This painful condition develops after swimming or bathing. Any activity that allows water to sit in the ear canal long enough for germs to multiply could lead to swimmer’s ear. Summer’s heat and humidity increase the risk of developing the infection. It’s typically treated with prescription antimicrobial drops.

For the study, researchers used data from two national databases to determine the number of outpatient visits for swimmer’s ear between 2003 and 2007. They also found that one out of every one-hundred-and-twenty-three Americans seeks medical help for swimmer’s ear.

While children between the ages of five and fourteen had the highest rates of doctor visits, adults twenty-one and older accounted for more than half of the visits. The study also found that forty-four percent of all visits were during the summer months of June, July and August.

So how do you spare yourself — or your child — a trip to the doctor? Use simple precautions. Dry ears after swimming or showering. Don’t put foreign objects in the ear canal or try to remove ear wax yourself. This can irritate skin and promote infection. Finally, ask your doctor if you need alcohol-based drops to help dry your ears after swimming.

These tips should help keep you and your ears infection-free.