Water can infiltrate the ears during a shower, a swim in the pool, a dip at the beach or while cleaning your ears. In most cases, the water flows out of the ears by itself and does not cause any problem.
In some cases, however, water can get stuck in your ear, generating the sensation of plugged or muffled ears. This happens when water flows through the ear canal and settles in the ear. It works its way through gravity into the eardrum and builds up there. Due to trapped water, the eardrum cannot move properly, no longer fully transmitting sound.
The sensation of having water in the ears is common. Water in your ears can lead to a muffled ear sensation, characterized by a rustling noise through the ear canal that sounds or even feels like gurgling to the eardrum. This sensation usually lasts a short time without consequences.
However, when the water does not escape from your ears, it can remain there for days and cause problems such as:
If fresh, salt or chemically-treated swimming pool water gets stuck in your ear, the presence of salt and chlorine could trigger inflammation of the ear canal. This happens because these substances break down the ear’s protective film, making it more vulnerable for pathogens to strike. Furthermore, water in your ears can alter temperature regulation, making your ear canal more vulnerable to the effects of cold during the winter months.
Sometimes we have the sensation of having water in our ears or hearing a sound like water splashing, but we know there is no water. When this happens, it’s worth investigating other possible causes of the water-like sloshing ear sensation you’re experiencing.
Here are some alternative possibilities to the seemingly real presence of water in your ear:
You can try to remove the water in your ear in many ways, including:
Water in your ear not only can create unpleasant ear pain but can also be dangerous if it remains stuck in the ear for a long period of time. If ear inflammation has already occurred, it is strongly recommended to book an appointment with a hearing care specialist, who will recommend the correct treatment for you.
In babies and children, water in the ears can lead to ear inflammation, which is likely to develop more quickly than in adults as their Eustachian Tubes are shorter and more narrow and their immune system is not ready to deal with such conditions. If the water contains germs and keeps the baby's ear canal moist, otitis media can develop.
In the case of tympanic effusion, on the other hand, a liquid forms inside the ear and collects behind the eardrum. Most of the time, this condition may also bring ear pain in the affected person. Tympanic effusion is more common in young children, and it must be treated quickly as it can be painful and may also lead to hearing loss.
Using the wrong methods for getting water out of your ears can scratch your ear canal, impact earwax in the canal or worse. Avoid the following methods for drying out your ears, or you will be more likely to get an infection.
If you notice the water does not come out of the ear using the methods outlined above and gets stuck, you must be careful. A sudden movement while using objects like cotton swabs and Q-Tips in your ear could cause severe and persistent ear pain.
It's never a good idea to stick anything into your ear canal. By using cotton swabs, you risk pushing earwax deeper or removing earwax that would otherwise be protective to your ear. Sharp objects and fingernails can also scratch the skin of the ear canal.
If water remains inside your ear and the sensation of muffled hearing persists for several days, it is likely the earwax inside the ear canal has absorbed some of the water, enlarging and obstructing the ear. Some of the risks include:
Water stuck inside the ear can result in an ear infection called otitis externa, also known as Swimmer's Ear. This ear infection manifests itself through the following symptoms:
Therefore, it is important to prevent water from remaining in the ears for a long duration of time. If you think you have otitis externa, see a hearing specialist right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Here are some tips to prevent water from entering your ear and getting stuck:
If the self-care tips in this article do not resolve the issue and the water in your ear remains, have your ears checked by your healthcare provider or hearing care specialist, who may be able to drain the water and dry the ear canal, if necessary. If the water remains stuck in ear for a long time, it can make its way deeper into your ear, even up to the eardrum, resulting in possible complications. Our advice to you is to dry your ears out as quickly as possible at the first sign of water being present.
Experiencing ear pain in addition to the feeling of muffled ear can be symptoms of Swimmer's Ear. So it is important to book an appointment with your healthcare provider or hearing care professional as soon as possible.
Specific ear drops can protect the pH value of the ear and help avoid possible inflammation deriving from contact with water.
If the water gets stuck in your ear and the muffled ear sensation remains after a couple of days, it is likely that a plug of wax has formed inside the ear. This earwax buildup may be treated with ear drops or sprays formulated to soften and drain the buildup. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional before using ear drops to ensure you’re using the best option for removing water from your ear.