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Water can remain in the ear after swimming or other activities that allow water into the ear canal. The water will usually drain out of the ear naturally. However, if the water does not drain out, it may lead to an outer ear infection, called swimmer’s ear.
A person who has water trapped in their ear may experience a tickling or itching sensation that extends from the ear to the jaw or throat. They may also have issues with hearing, including hearing muffled sounds.
Usually, the water will drain out by itself due to the ear’s structure and water-repellant earwax. However, sometimes a person may need to use some home remedies to treat the blocked ears.
This article discusses six tips to safely remove water from the ear and the methods to avoid, preventions, risks, and when to seek medical attention.
A person can try various things to help drain water from the ear or clear out any debris trapping the liquid in the ear. If people try one or more of the following tips, it may help resolve the issue.
If the issue worsens or persists for a few days, a person should consult a doctor even after trying these methods.
Many people will instinctively move or tug the earlobe when water gets in their ears.
Lying down on one side and keeping still for a few minutes may help the liquid drain or trickle from the ear.
Tilt the head so the affected ear faces down. Hold the earlobe with the thumb behind the ear and gently tug and jiggle the ear in all directions. This may help shake the inside of the ear and create a path for any trapped water to flow out.
It may also help to wiggle the deeper areas of the ear during this process. Try yawning, wiggling the jaw, or making exaggerated chewing motions with the mouth to help move water towards the outer canal, and then tug at the earlobe to finish the process.
If a person experiences pain while tugging the earlobe, this is a sign of infection, and time to consult a doctor. They may prescribe medicated eardrops to clear an infection if that is the underlying cause.
In addition to eardrops, some doctors in the United States may perform aural toilet. This involves inserting a thin instrument with a small hoop into the ear to clean it.
Using the palms to get some reverse pressure in the ear and vacuum the water out may be possible.
Tilt the head to the side so the affected ear faces down. Cup the hand around the ear, so the palm covers most of the ear and ear canal.
Push the cupped palm toward the ear, slightly pressing the ear into the head, and then pulling away again. The palm should flatten as it presses into the ear and cup again as it pulls away. The person should feel suction and release in the ear during this activity.
After doing this a few times, tilt the head down to allow the liquid to drain. It may help to jiggle the earlobe again to help the water out.
Soak a towel or washcloth in warm water and squeeze out the extra water. Make sure the towel is not too hot, as this may cause a burn or irritation in the ear.
A warm compress may help relax the tissues in the ear and loosen congestion in the area.
Fold the towel and tilt the head, resting the ear on the compress. Rest there for several minutes, letting the warmth relax the ear and promote drainage.
It may also help to use other techniques after the ear is warm, such as yawning or tugging at the ear to promote further drainage.
Some people may choose to evaporate any extra water in the ear canal using air from a blow dryer. To do this, rest the head on a towel or pillow, with the affected ear facing the blow dryer.
Put the blow dryer on the lowest setting, and keep the device at least a foot away from the head. Pull on the ear lobe to open and direct more air into the ear.
Be sure to do this in a clean room free from dust, hair, or other debris that could blow into the ear. Ensure that the device is far enough away so the pressure from the air or sound from the motor does not damage the delicate structures in the ear.
Alcohol and vinegar may work together to help clear moisture and debris from the ear. Alcohol may help evaporate water. Both alcohol and vinegar may also help kill any bacteria in the ear and break down any earwax or other buildup blocking the ear.
Make a solution with an equal mix of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Once combined, tilt the head with the affected ear facing up, and apply a few drops into the ear.
Gently rub the outside of the ear, massaging the liquid into place. Leave it in the ear for about 30 seconds, and then allow it to drain out over a towel or the sink. Clean up and dry the outer ear.
People can also use warm olive oil to help prevent ear infections and get water out of the ear. Place a few drops of the oil directly into the ear, and lie down on one side for several minutes. Sit up, tilt head, and allow the liquid to drip out.
Hydrogen peroxide solutions may help remove wax and debris blocking the path in the ear canal that may be trapping water and causing an issue. While earwax is important to trap debris and contaminants into the ear, it may also become clogged or trap water behind the wax.
Several over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops combine hydrogen peroxide with other ingredients to help unclog sticky or impacted earwax and other liquids stuck in the canal.
A diluted hydrogen peroxide solution may also help clear out the ear canal. To make the solution, mix 3% hydrogen peroxide (the concentration that researchers generally recommend to remove earwax) with an equal amount of water.
Tilt the head so the affected ear faces up. Put 2–3 drops of the solution into the affected ear and let it work for a few minutes. Slowly turn the head, let the ear drain into a towel or over the sink, and dry the outer ear.
Doctors recommend not using hydrogen peroxide too often.
Additionally, some people should not use hydrogen peroxide in their ears, including those who:
- have had recent ear surgery
- have ear tubes or ventilation tubes
- have open cuts in their ear canal
- may have a ruptured eardrum
- have a possible ear infection
Anyone uncertain about their status should check with a doctor before using hydrogen peroxide in their ears.
There are some general tips to consider when getting water out of the ear.
There are certain don’ts, including:
- putting objects into the ear canal, such as cotton swabs, paperclips, or bobby pins
- putting the fingers or fingernails into the ears
- placing blow dryers, fans, or things that force air into the ear very close to the ear, as the noise or pressure may be damaging to the delicate structures in the ear
No one should use either of the methods that involve ear drops if they already have an ear infection, a punctured eardrum, or ear tubes.
General tips to help prevent water from staying in the ear include:
- wearing a cap, earplugs, or ear molds when bathing or swimming
- avoiding submerging head in water
- using a dry towel to clean the outside of the ears after coming out of the water
- avoiding using earbuds or headphones for prolonged periods while sweating, such as during a heavy workout
- talk with a doctor about regular wax buildup and how to keep the ears clear
People who play water sports, swim, or are frequently in water may wear earplugs. Thoroughly drying and shaking the head from side to side after getting out of the water may also help drain water from the ears.
If water stays in the ear for too long, a person may develop an infection. The infection generally occurs as bacteria in the ear or water have an ideal place to multiply, leading to a response in the body that causes symptoms.
People may be more at risk of swimmer’s ear (acute otitis externa) if they swim in water that contains high levels of bacteria, such as a lake. Swimming pools and spas are generally safer, as they usually have rules about checking bacteria and pH levels regularly.
The ear has several defense mechanisms to protect against infections, but some issues can create the ideal conditions for an infection, including:
- excess moisture in the ear
- scratches or cuts in the ear canal
- allergies to hair products or jewelry
Some doctors recommend that people with swimmer’s ear wear earplugs when swimming and dry the ears thoroughly with a blow dryer or towel afterward.
Infection and other complications
If an infection develops, people may experience intense itching and increasing pain. The ear may become too painful to touch. A person may also experience fluid drainage or a discharge of pus. A severe infection may lead to fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and pain in the face, neck, or side of the head.
Some people will experience recurring ear infections (chronic otitis externa), and temporary hearing loss may occur. When the infection clears up, hearing usually improves.
Rarely, untreated swimmer’s ear can lead to bone and cartilage damage, or malignant otitis externa. In some cases, untreated ear infections can spread to the base of the skull or cranial nerves.
To evaluate a person’s swimmer’s ear, a doctor will look for redness and swelling in the ear canal and ask if they are experiencing any pain.
A doctor may also take a sample of any abnormal fluid or discharge in the ear (ear culture) to test for the presence of bacteria or fungus if a person has recurrent or severe infections.
A person should talk with a doctor if the problem persists for several days or if the ear becomes painful and inflamed at any point, as this is a sign of infection.
Ear infections can become serious if not properly treated.
If the pain is severe or a person has a fever, consult a doctor immediately.
It may be necessary to consult an ear specialist if:
- an ear infection has not gone away 10-14 days after using antibiotic ear drops
- the person has lost their hearing
- the infections persistently reoccur
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommend that people do not attempt to remove earwax from their ears, as it is the earwax that helps protect the ear from infection.
Anyone who thinks that they have wax blocking their ear canal should talk with a doctor.
A person may get water trapped in their ear after bathing or swimming.
There are several simple ways to help encourage this water out of the ear. Some efforts, such as wearing swimmers’ earplugs, can help prevent water from becoming trapped in the ear.
Getting water out of the ear may help reduce the risk of infection and allow the ear to work as it should.
Anyone who cannot get the water out of their ear in a few days or who experiences other symptoms of infection along with this symptom should talk with a doctor or ear specialist.