As an audiologist who has worked with countless patients, I can tell you one of the most common problems patients experience is water stuck in their ears. You may have experienced this yourself. Whether it's from swimming, showering, or any other water activity, it can be incredibly frustrating and uncomfortable. Fortunately, it's usually nothing to worry about. And luckily, there are many simple things you can do at home to get that stubborn water out. In this article, we'll go through some at-home suggestions for getting it out and when to see a healthcare professional.
How does it happen?
You may be wondering how in the world water gets stuck in the ear. How far down is it? And where does it get stuck exactly?
The ear canal has a natural bend at two places. Every person's ear canal is unique, like a fingerprint. If you've ever had an ear impression taken of your ear, you've probably noticed that your ear canal is not perfectly straight. Especially for some more 'bendy' canals, water can get stuck more easily down near the eardrum. In some cases, the water is all the way down past the second bend, and with the twists and turns of the ear canal, it may be a bit stubborn. Pulling up gently on the pinna (the outer ear) or earlobe helps to straighten out and elongate the ear canal, making it easier to clear.
Now that we know where the water gets stuck in the ear, let's go through a few methods to help you get water out of the ear.
Try These Tips
1. Tilt your head
One of the easiest things you can do is pull up and back on the earlobe to straighten the ear canal and tilt your head to the side with the water-filled ear facing down. To help in the process, opening and closing the jaw, yawning, or making chewing motions can help to move the water down the ear. Gravity can be a powerful ally, and this simple trick can allow the water to drain out.
2. Lie down
This method can work to help get that water out, but it can require some patience. First, lie down with the affected ear facing down. Place a towel or cloth under your head to absorb any water that may come out. Remain in this position for a few minutes to allow the water to drain out, and then, use a tissue or cotton ball to wipe away any remaining moisture gently.
3. Use a hair dryer
Applying heat with a hair dryer on a low setting can help evaporate the water. Hold the dryer at a safe distance from your ear for a few minutes, and then take a break. Repeat until the water is gone.
4.Try hydrogen peroxide
Over-the-counter ear drops can help dry out water in the ear. Follow the instructions carefully, and do not use this method if you currently have a perforated eardrum, PE tubes in the ear, or an active infection.
5. Create a vacuum
Another effective technique to remove water from your ear is to create a vacuum in the ear canal. This can be done by cupping your hand over the affected ear and pressing it gently against the side of your head. By alternating pressing and releasing, you create a suction effect that can help draw the water out. Ensure the palm of your hand creates a seal around the ear to generate the vacuum effectively. This method is simple and safe, but patience is key as the water might take a while to drain out entirely.
What Not to Do
It may be tempting to reach for a cotton swab to try and dig the water out, but this practice can do more harm than good. Not only can it push the water further into your ear canal, but it can also damage your eardrum or cause injury to your ear canals.
When to See a Specialist
If the above methods do not work, or you experience pain, discharge, or decreased hearing, it's time to see a specialist. They can safely and effectively remove the water and address any underlying issues. Sometimes, patients come in because they think there's water stuck in the ear, but it's actually wax, or water gets stuck behind some wax in the ear. Other conditions can cause the sensation of fullness in the ear. Sometimes, what feels like water in the ear may be a middle ear infection. So if you're not succeeding with these methods, seeing an ENT to resolve the issue is best.
How to Prevent Water in the Ear
Consider some swim plugs if you're an avid swimmer or water sports enthusiast. Water in the ear can lead to a swimmer's ear; thinking ahead helps to prevent discomfort or infection. Swim earplugs are molded to fit your ear so that water doesn't go in where it could get stuck. Swim plugs are made of lightweight, buoyant material, so they float in water (and won't end up at the bottom of the lake or swimming pool).
For a low-budget option, consider a moldable earplug. These earplugs are typically made of wax or pliable material that conforms to your ear shape, blocking water from entering the ear canal. Mack’s earplugs make a moldable silicone earplug, for example. There are just a few simple steps to use this type of earplug properly. Roll the material into a ball in your hand. Place the material so that it covers the ear canal. Press the material with the palm of your hand to make a flat plug that seals off the ear canal.
Water stuck in your ear can be a nuisance, but these tips can help you safely and effectively remove it. Using cotton swabs can worsen the situation, so it's best to avoid them. If the problem persists or you experience any concerning symptoms, seek help from a specialist. If you're an avid swimmer or water sports fan, consider getting some swim earplugs to keep your ears dry and prevent water from getting stuck. Don't let this situation put a damper on your summer fun!