Report: Swimmer's Ear Costs Half Billion in Annual Health Care Costs

Posted on May 21, 2011

The CDC reports that swimmer's ear leads to about 2.4 million doctor visits each year and is responsible for nearly $500 million dollars in annual health care costs. The estimates were published in CDC's MMWR, which stands for Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC says swimmer's ear can develop when water stays in the ear canal for a long time. This enables germs to grow and infect the skin. Exposure to water-through swimming, bathing and other activities increase the risk of swimmer's ear. Living in warm and humid climates also increases the risk. The CDC says germs found in pools and at other recreational water venues are one of the most common causes of swimmer's ear. Fortunately, most cases of swimmer's ear can be treated with prescription antimicrobial ear drops.

The CDC determined an average cost per case of $200 for patients who didn't need hospitalization. That average cost was multiplied by the 2.4 million cases to determine the overall cost estimate for swimmer's ear cases.

Michael Beach, Ph.D., CDC's associate director for healthy water, says, "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. 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 provided the following recommendations for preventing swimmer's ear: You can read more about swimmer's ear here on cdc.gov and here on the Mayo Clinic's website.