Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Ear Infection Health Center

Font Size

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

Study Finds Each Minor Infection Costs a Patient About $200 to Treat
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 19, 2011 -- Swimmers often regard inflammation of the external ear canal, known as swimmer's ear, as an inevitable, minor nuisance. But a new study finds that the problem adds substantially to health care costs and the number of annual doctor visits.

"For swimmer's ear, there are 2.4 million health care visits and it costs half a billion dollars in health care costs each year," says Emily Piercefield, MD, DVM, an epidemiologist with the CDC who co-authored the report.

That doesn't include lost time from work and school activities, she tells WebMD.

The condition is often preventable, she says, by following simple hygiene measures and other tips.

The research is published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Swimmer's Ear: By the Numbers

The new study is believed to be the first report to describe the overall number of cases in children and adults and the costs associated with the condition.

Swimmer's ear, known to doctors as acute otitis externa, is an inflammation of the external ear canal. Bacterial infection is the typical cause. The symptoms include pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling of the ear canal. There can also be discharge from the ear.

Piercefield and her team used databases such as the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and a database of emergency room visits. They used an insurance claim and payment database to estimate costs.

The $200 cost per infection was for those who didn't need to be hospitalized. Less than 3% of visits to the emergency department for swimmer's ear during 2007 ended in hospital admission.

Among other findings:

  • One in 123 Americans visited a doctor in 2007 for swimmer's ear.
  • From 2003 to 2007, children ages 5 to 14 had the highest annual visit rates for swimmer's ear, but more than 50% of visits were by adults 20 and older.
  • Cases peaked during summer swimming season, not surprisingly. June, July, and August are peak months.

Swimmer's Ear: Stopping It

Swimmers can reduce their risk of the infection, Piercefield says. Being aware of risk factors is one way.

"Risk factors are frequent swimming," she says. "The longer you are in the pool and more frequently, those increase your risk. If you are in a warm, humid environment, that increases your risk."

Today on WebMD

Ear Infection Slideshow
Earache Cold Ear Infection
Side view of child's ear
Syringes and graph illustration
Ear Infections When To Call A Doctor
woman cleaning ear
Ear Infections Medications
Ear Infections Surgery
24 Kid Illnesses Parents Should Know
Parker Treating Ear Infections
Ear Infections What Happens
Ear Infections Exams And Tests