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Swimmer's Ear Costs U.S. Half a Billion Yearly

Study Finds Each Minor Infection Costs a Patient About $200 to Treat

Swimmer's Ear: Stopping It continued...

Infection can set in, she says, when bacteria accumulate in the water sitting in the ear canal. Keeping the ears dry is the goal.

Among the ways to help prevent the condition:

  • Keep your ears as dry as possible while swimming. Use a bathing cap, ear plugs, or custom-fitted swim molds.
  • Dry ears thoroughly after a shower or a swim.
  • Keep objects out of your ears. This includes cotton-tip swabs.
  • Leave earwax alone. It protects the ear canal from infection. If the wax is interfering with hearing, see your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor about using a homemade mixture of equal parts of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar after swimming. This remedy is not recommended for those with damaged eardrums, ear ventilating tubes, ear infection, or ear drainage.
  • Be sure the pool you swim in is properly disinfected. You can use pool test strips to check or ask the pool operator.

Swimmer's Ear: Perspective

The statistic of 2.4 million visits a year for swimmer's ear is surprising, says Thomas J Balkany, MD, Hotchkiss Professor and director of the University of Miami Ear Institute.

He reviewed the report for WebMD. "In my clinical experience, this appears to be a high number," he says.

He does agree that swimmers can reduce their risk.

He also recommends the 1-1 rubbing alcohol and white vinegar treatment, under certain conditions. "Don't use anything in the ear unless a doctor has told you the ear is normal," he says. Those with ear tubes or a possible hole in the eardrum should not use the mixture, he says.

For others, the remedy can help, he says. The alcohol has a drying effect, and the vinegar is acidic enough to change the environment of the ear canal so bacteria have a difficult time growing.

How to tell if you may need attention for swimmer's ear? "Place your index finger in the opening of the ear canal and your thumb behind the ear. Firmly but gently move the cartilage back and forth," Balkany says. If that hurts, he says, it could be swimmer's ear.

The typical treatment is antibiotic ear drops.

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