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Water stuck in ear: How to get rid of it

Last update on Apr, 26, 2023

How does water get stuck in your ear?

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. 

Water in ear: Symptoms

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:

  • Tinnitus: Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head not caused by an external sound source. One sound people often report hearing is water splashing
  • Eustachian Tube Dysfunction: Occurs when your Eustachian Tube doesn't open or close properly. This can lead to a crackling or popping sound in your ear
  • Pressure Caused by an Infection: Swelling and inflammation caused by an infection can cause mucous membranes to build up and create pressure
  • Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media): A middle ear infection is caused by a buildup of fluid in the ear from a cold, allergies, or water infiltration. If the pain gets worse, you should see your doctor for evaluation and treatment
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Prevention is key

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How to get rid of water in ear?

You can try to remove the water in your ear in many ways, including:

  • Shaking or tilting your head. You can also try soaking the water up by gently inserting the tip of a paper tissue into the ear canal. However, this mustn't be excessively thick, as it could irritate the walls of your ear canal.
  • Gently pull on your ear: Pull the earlobe slightly while tilting the head towards your shoulder to increase the size of your ear cavity, making it easier for the to water roll out.
  • Use a hair dryer. Using a hair dryer can also help dry your ear canal properly and get rid of the water inside the ears. Some precautions are necessary, though, such as keeping the hair dryer a sufficient distance from the ear and using it on the lowest level of heat to avoid burns and other related problems.
  • Create a vacuum: Stand with the affected ear facing downwards and press the palm of your hand on it for short intervals until water starts to come out. Remember to keep it pointing towards the floor, otherwise, you risk pushing the water deeper into the ear canal. This method will create a vacuum that will draw the water toward your hand;
  • Yawn or chew: Yawning and chewing can make it easier to remove water from your ear canal. The water in your ears stops in an area called Eustachian Tube. Yawning and chewing make it possible to release the fluid through mandibular muscles movement outside the ear.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: When done properly, the Valsalva Maneuver is a technique that can be used to help open a closed Eustachian Tube to help fluid flow out of your ears. First, close your mouth, pinch your nose closed, and then blow or press air for a few seconds, keeping your mouth and nose shut. Be careful not to blow too hard, as this can damage your eardrum.
  • Ear drops and sprays: If the above steps are ineffective and the muffled ear sensation does not go away after a couple of days, a plug of wax has likely formed inside the ear. This earwax buildup may be treated with ear drops or sprays, which can help soften and drain it. 

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.

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Don’ts for getting water out of the ear

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.

The application of hydrogen peroxide inside your ear can be beneficial in some cases, but it’s also very risky. For example, using too much of it can irritate the skin inside the ear. It is also dangerous if you have a perforated eardrum. This is why it is always best to consult your doctor before taking any steps on your own and using it.

Rubbing alcohol and vinegar sometimes surface as helpful solutions to get rid of water in your ears. However, these solutions can also be risky. If your eardrum is also perforated, rubbing alcohol or vinegar will cause severe pain. High levels of rubbing alcohol can even be toxic for your ears. It is always best to consult your doctor or hearing care specialist before using home remedies for water removal from your ears.

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Risks related to water in the ear

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:

  • Pain and itching. Pain and itching in the ear can indicate an ear infection caused by bacteria in the water. In this case, an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) can prescribe an antibiotic if necessary and remove the remaining water from your ear. Failure to treat these warning signs can, in the worst case, lead to hearing loss;
  • Temperature Regulation Issues. Your ear canal can become more vulnerable to the effects of cold during the winter months, as the presence of water in the ears alters temperature regulation;
  • Ear infections. The presence of water can over-soften the skin of the ear canal. If the water contains soap, it can alter your skin’s lipid protection, exposing it to inflammation and infections. Ear infections can be extremely painful. If your ear pain does not go away within a couple of days, an appointment with a hearing care specialist is necessary.

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:

  • An itchy ear canal, sensitive to touch
  • Swelling and redness inside the ear
  • A muffled ear
  • Severe pain inside the ear
  • Fluid secreting from the ear
  • Intense headaches

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.

How to avoid getting water in your ears

Here are some tips to prevent water from entering your ear and getting stuck:

  • Dry your ears well: Every time you’re done swimming and after completing a bath or a shower. Remove any excess water from your ear with a clean cloth while tilting your head from side to side.
  • Use swimming earplugs: If you are fond of swimming or diving, swimming earplugs can prevent water from entering your ear, avoiding possible complications. Silicone earplugs, available at your nearest participating Miracle-Ear hearing center, are particularly effective at protecting the ear from water penetration. Choose from waterproof earplugs for adults and special earplugs for children to help protect your ears from water penetration.
  • Avoid excessive ear cleaning. This can damage the natural protective film inside your ear.
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Water stuck in the ear for days: When to see a doctor

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.

FAQs on water in the ear

When water enters your ears, it can remain for a couple of days before making its way out. On the other hand, if your earwax barrier is compromised and not properly protecting your ear canal, water can remain longer. The warm-humid environment of your ear canal also accelerates the risk of bacteria growth. If the water is still trapped after 2 to 3 days or if you show signs of infection, you should call your doctor 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.

Vertigo and dizziness can be caused by cold water entering the ears, leading to reflex activity in the semicircular canals in the internal ear or labyrinth.

Because your ear, nose and throat are interconnected, using sinus rinses or neti pots can sometimes cause water to get stuck in your ears. If this happens, try one of the self-care tips mentioned above to drain the water from your ear or book an appointment with a hearing care specialist.
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