water in ear

water in ear

Although swimming is the most important cause of water in the ear, any situation where the ear canal is exposed to water can cause discomfort. A substance called cerumen, which is normally produced in the ear and known as earwax, prevents water from entering the ear. But in some cases, water escapes deep into the ear and accumulates there. 

If water gets into the ear, a tickling sensation can be seen in the ear canal, extending to the jawbone and throat. Hearing is also affected, and the sound is only muffled. Usually the water drains by itself. However, if there is no discharge, the water accumulating in the external ear canal can cause ear infections. This type of ear infection in the outer ear canal is called swimmer’s ear or otitis externa.

What are the symptoms of water in the ear?

Sometimes, water may remain in the ears after swimming, diving or bathing, causing some symptoms and complaints. Water in the ear can affect one or both ears and cause a decrease in hearing. Some of the symptoms that can be seen can be listed as follows:

  • A feeling of fullness and discomfort in the ear
  • Tickling sensation extending to the jawbone
  • tinnitus

If an external ear infection called swimmer’s ear develops due to fluid in the ear;

  • itchy ear
  • Pain
  • redness
  • Swelling
  • Clear, yellow, bloody, or foul-smelling discharge from the ear
  • Dryness and flaking of the skin around the outer ear
  • Fire
  • Symptoms such as pain in the soft tissues around the ear can be seen. 

What are the risks of getting water in the ear?

If water stays in the ear for a long time,  there is an increased risk of otitis  externa. Infection is usually caused by bacteria found in contaminated water. Those who swim in waters with high levels of bacteria, such as lakes, are at greater risk of infection. Swimming pools are safer as bacteria and pH levels are usually checked regularly.  The risk of  otitis externa is higher in people with a chronic skin condition in the ear, such as psoriasis  or  eczema  , than in the normal population. The ear has several defense mechanisms against infections. Conditions that affect these defense mechanisms increase the risk of inflammation. The following increase the risk of infection if water gets into the ear:

  • Scratches or injuries in the ear canal
  • Allergic reaction to the hair care products or jewelry used

How do you get water in your ear? 

Water in the ear often drains on its own and rarely requires intervention. However, if water stays in the ear for a long time and is left untreated, it can cause some unpleasant consequences. The structure of the ear provides a dark and moist environment where fungi or bacteria can thrive, which triggers the development of infection. External ear infection, also known as an outer ear infection, can cause swelling, irritation, and discomfort in the ear canal. Various methods can be used to remove water from the ear. The most commonly used methods;

  • Gently pulling or shaking the earlobe. This method can make the water drain out of your ear quickly. Gently pulling or shaking the earlobe with the head tilted sideways from the shoulder can be effective.
  • Shaking the head from side to side can also be helpful in evacuating the water.
  • lie  down. With this technique, gravity is used to help water flow out of the ear. Lying for a few minutes over the ear from which the water has escaped may help the water flow. It is necessary to place a towel on the lying place to absorb the running water.
  • Putting a few drops of water in the ear.  This technique may sound counterintuitive, but it is actually effective at draining water from the ear. For application, lying on its side, a few drops of water are dropped into the affected ear using a clean dropper. After waiting for five seconds, the ear is turned upside down to drain the water and it is waited for all the water in the ear to flow out.

How to get water out of the ear? 

Some other applications that a person can do on their own to remove water from the ear include;

  •  Creating a vacuum in the  ear : In this method, first the head is tilted to the side and the palm is pressed firmly against the ear to form a tight seal. Then the hand is moved towards the ear by applying light pushing force back and forth. This method creates a vacuum force that can pull the water out. It is helpful to tilt the head down after the procedure to allow the water to drain.
  • Applying a warm compress:  Sometimes water can become trapped in the Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear to the area just behind the nasal passages. A warm compress can help drain water from the Eustachian tube. For this purpose warm; but non-boiling water should be used. The cloth moistened with hot water is squeezed well and applied to the ear. During heat application, the head is tilted towards the affected ear side. The cloth is applied to the outer part of the ear, and after waiting for about 30 seconds, a break is made for one minute. The process is repeated four or five times. Lying on the unclogged ear side afterward can help drain the water.
  • Using a hair dryer:  The hot air blown by the hair dryer can help the water in the ear canal to evaporate. The application should be done by setting the blow dryer to the lowest setting. The machine is kept at a distance of about 30 cm from the ear and drying is applied with back and forth movements. Pulling the earlobe down helps warm air reach the outer ear canal.
  • Yawning or chewing gum:  If water has accumulated in the Eustachian tube, moving the mouth can sometimes help drain the water. Chewing gum and yawning can be effective in relieving tension in the Eustachian tube. Then the water can be drained by tilting the head to the side.
  • Performing the Valsalva maneuver:  In this method, air is released from the ears after the mouth and nostrils are closed. Care should be taken not to blow too hard during the maneuver. Because this can damage the eardrum. This method can also help open closed Eustachian tubes. After performing the maneuver, the head should be tilted to the side to allow the water to flow from the ear.
  • Hot steam:  It can help drain water from the eustachian tubes in the middle ear. Taking a hot shower or applying a mini sauna with a bowl of hot water can help. For the mini sauna, a large bowl is filled with hot water. To keep the steam in, the head is covered with a towel and the face is held over the bowl. The steam is inhaled for 5 to 10 minutes and then the head is tilted to the side to empty the ear.

How to prevent water from getting into the ear? 

A good way to prevent water from getting into the ear is to use caps or earplugs when bathing or swimming. Drying the ears thoroughly with a dry towel after getting out of the water can also be effective. Doctors recommend that people who do water sports or spend time in the water frequently wear earplugs. Shaking the head from side to side after getting out of the water helps to drain the water from the ears.

What should not be done in case of water in the ear? 

If the methods you use to remove water from the ear do not work, inserting a stick, finger, or any other object into the ear will do more harm than good. Doing so can make the situation worse by causing:

  • Adding bacteria to the area
  • pushing water deeper into the ear
  • Injuring the ear canal
  • perforation of the eardrum

When to consult a doctor? 

Water that gets into the ear usually drains on its own. If the water in the ear is bothering the person, the home remedies mentioned can be tried. However, if the water still does not come out after two to three days or if there are signs of infection, a healthcare provider should be consulted.