Water may remain in the ear after swimming, showering, or other activities that allow water to enter the ear canal. In general, the water drains naturally from the ear. However, if the water is not drained, it can lead to infection of the outer ear, which is called swimmer’s ear. A person with water stuck in their ear may feel a tickling or itching that spreads from the ear to the jaw or throat. You may also have hearing problems, including muffled sounds. In general, the water empties itself thanks to the structure of the ear and cerumen that repels water. However, sometimes it is necessary to resort to home remedies to treat a blocked ear.
Here are six tips for safely removing water from the ear, along with what to avoid, prevention, risks, and when to see a doctor.
Tips to remove water from the ear
One can try different things to help drain the water from the ear or remove debris trapping fluid in the ear. Applying one or more of the following tips may help solve the problem. Experts recommend not to introduce foreign objects into the ear canals. This can injure or make the earwax build-up worse by pushing it deeper into the canal. If the problem worsens or persists for a few days, you should consult a doctor even after trying these methods.
1. Displacement of the earlobe
Many people move instinctively or pull on their earlobes when water seeps into their ears. Lying on your side and remaining still for a few minutes can help drain fluid from the ear. Tilt your head so that the affected ear is facing down. Hold the earlobe with your thumb behind the ear and gently pull the ear, rocking it in all directions. This can help shake the ear from the inside and create a path for the trapped water to drain. It may also be helpful to rock the deeper parts of the ear during this process. Try yawning, waving your jaw, or making exaggerated chewing motions with your mouth to help move water into the outer canal, then tightening your earlobe to complete the process.
If a person feels pain when the earlobe is pulled, this is a sign of infection and it is time to see a doctor. Your doctor may prescribe medicated drops to clear up the infection if this is the underlying cause. In addition to ear drops, some doctors in the United States may perform ear tampons. This involves inserting a thin instrument with a small loop into the ear to clean it.
2. Create a vacuum
It is possible to use the palms of the hands to apply reverse pressure in the ear and absorb water. Tilt your head to the side with the affected ear facing down. Place your hand around the ear so that the palm covers most of the ear canal and ear. Push the palm toward the ear, gently press the ear into the head, then pull it out again. The palm should flatten out as it sinks into the ear and close as it retracts. The person should feel suction and release in the ear during this activity. After doing this a few times, tilt your head down to allow the liquid to flow out. Shaking the earlobe again may help to get the water out.
3. Apply a warm compress
Soak a towel or washcloth in hot water and wring it out to get rid of the excess water. Make sure that the towel is not too hot, as this may cause a burning sensation or irritation in the ear. A warm compress can help relax the ear tissues and relieve congestion in the area. Fold the towel and tilt your head, resting your ear on the compress. Remain in this position for several minutes, letting the heat relax the ear and promote drainage. It may also be helpful to use other techniques after warming the ear, such as yawning or pulling the ear to promote drainage.
4. Evaporation of trapped water
Some people may choose to vaporize the excess water in the ear canal using air from a hair dryer. To do this, lay your head on a towel or pillow, with the affected ear facing the hair dryer. Put the hair dryer on the lowest setting and place the appliance at a distance of at least 30 cm from the head. Pull the earlobe to open and direct more air into the ear. Make sure to perform this process in a clean room that is free from dust, hair, or any other debris that may ooze into the ear. Make sure the device is far enough away that neither the air pressure nor the sound of the engine will damage the delicate structures of the ear.
5. Home Remedies
Vinegar and alcohol can work together to help remove moisture and debris from the ear. Alcohol can help evaporate the water. Alcohol and vinegar can also help kill bacteria in the ear and break down earwax or other buildup that clogs the ear. Prepare a solution from a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Once mixed, tilt your head with the affected ear up and put a few drops into the ear. Gently rub the outside of the ear, inserting the liquid into it. Leave the liquid in the ear for 30 seconds, then leave it on a towel or in the sink. Clean and dry the outer ear.
People with ear problems, such as an ear infection, a ruptured eardrum, or open wounds in the ear should not use this trick.
You can also use warm olive oil to prevent ear infections and drain water from the ear. Put a few drops of the oil directly into the ear and lie on your side for several minutes. Sit down, tilt your head, and let the fluid drain.
To learn more about removing earwax at home, click here.
What not to do to drain the water from the ear
There are some general tips to keep in mind when removing water from the ear.
There are some things not to do, including:
Inserting objects into the ear canal, such as cotton swabs, paper clips, or hairpins
Putting fingers or nails in the ears
Place a hair dryer, fan, or other device that blows air into the ear near the ear, where noise or pressure can damage the delicate structures of the ear.
Preventing water from retaining
Here are some general tips to prevent water from staying in the ear
Wear earplugs or covers when showering or swimming
Avoid immersing your head in water
Use a dry towel to clean the outside of the ears after getting out of the water
Avoid using earphones or headphones for long periods of time when sweating, for example during strenuous exercise.
Talk to your doctor about regular earwax buildup and ways to keep your ears clear.
However, the safest, most reliable and affordable treatment is to plug the ear with earplugs when showering to create a waterproof barrier. People who do water sports, swim, or are often in the water can wear earplugs. Drying well and rocking your head from side to side after getting out of the water can also help drain the water from your ears.
Risks related to the presence of water in the ear
If water remains in the ear for a long time, a person can develop an infection. Infection usually occurs when bacteria in the ear or water have an ideal place to grow, causing the body to react resulting in symptoms. The risk of getting swimmer’s ear (acute otitis externa) is higher if you swim in water that has a high bacteria content, such as a lake. Swimming pools and spas are generally safer, as they usually have rules regarding regular monitoring of bacteria and pH levels. The risk of swimmer’s ear also increases in people who already have a chronic skin condition that affects the ear, such as psoriasis or eczema.
The ear has many defense mechanisms to protect itself from infection, but some problems can create the ideal conditions for infection, including
Excessive 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 their ears well with a hair dryer or towel after swimming.
Infection and other complications
If an infection develops, affected individuals may experience intense itching and increasing pain. The ear may become very painful when touched. There may also be fluid or pus coming out. Severe infection can lead to fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and pain in the face, neck, or side of the head. In some people, ear infections are frequent (chronic otitis externa) and temporary hearing loss may occur. When the infection clears, hearing usually improves. In rare cases, 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 swimmer’s ear, the doctor will look for redness and swelling in the ear canal and ask if the patient is in any pain.