How to Get Water Out of Your Ears

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Sometimes after you've been swimming, diving, or have recently taken a bath, you might feel like there's still water in your ears. This may affect one or both ears and may decrease your hearing, make your ears feel like they need to "pop",  or otherwise just feel annoying. It is also important to clear the outer ear canal of any water to avoid getting an outer ear infection called swimmer's ear.

Swimmer's ear occurs when moisture allows bacteria inside the outer ear canal to grow.

 It can be prevented by keeping your ears dry. You can prevent getting water in your ears in the first place by wearing ear plugs (available over-the-counter at most drug stores) while bathing or swimming. Here are some tips for getting water out of your ears after swimming or bathing.

How to Get Water Out of Your Ears

  • Tilt your head down or lay on your side so that gravity allows the water to run out. You might wish to place a folded towel under your head and lay down on a pillow. It may also be helpful to gently pull your ear lobe down to straighten the ear canal out and make it easier for the water to run out. You can also try shaking your head from side to side.
  • Use a hair dryer on a low setting to gently dry your ears. Be careful not to hold the dryer too close to the ear to avoid burns. It may be helpful to tug on your ear lobe (pulling it down toward your shoulder) or gently move it from side to side while using the blow dryer.
  • Yawn, swallow, chew a piece of gum or try the Valsalva maneuver to open the auditory tube. An easy way to do the Valsalva maneuver is to tape the end of a straw shut and blow into it. If you don't have a straw you can take a deep breath and try blowing out with your mouth closed while simultaneously pinching your nostrils shut.
  • Soak a washcloth in warm water and then apply it to the outside of your ear for about 30 seconds, remove it for a minute, and repeat approximately four times. The heat may help to open your auditory tube. Alternatively, you can try filling a bowl with hot water and hovering over the steam for 5-10 minutes. Covering your head and the bowl with a towel will help to trap the steam and make this method more effective. Always use caution when handling hot water.
  • If the above methods don't work and you don't have a condition that has impaired your ear drum (see below) you can try ear drops. There are a few substances that may help to get the water out of your ears. One is a mixture of half rubbing alcohol and half vinegar. Lay on your side while another person uses a dropper to put three to four drops of the solution in your ear. Lay there for another 30 seconds then tilt your head to allow all the fluid to run out of your ear. Alternatively you can use three to four drops of hydrogen peroxide and leave it in your ear for 1-2 minutes before tilting your head to allow the fluid to run out. There are also over-the-counter ear drops sold for this purpose. If you choose to purchase and use an over-the-counter ear drop, just make sure you follow the directions on the package. It should be noted that the ear drops should be room temperature, if they are too cold you might get dizzy or feel strange when you put them in your ear. You can also try using drops of olive oil in your ears, however, in my opinion this works best for preventing swimmer's ear rather than getting existing water out of your ears after it's already there.

    What Not to do When There's Water in Your Ears

    • Never stick anything into your ears to try to get the water out, including cotton swabs. You could accidentally push the water further into your ear, introduce bacteria, or even damage the ear canal or ear drum.
    • Do not put any kind of drops in your ear if you have had recent ear surgery, have had surgically placed ventilation tubes, or could have a ruptured ear drum.

    When to Call Your Doctor

    Even if you are unable to get the water out of your ears with one of the methods listed above, your ears will usually clear it out on their own within a day or two.

    However, you should call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

    • ear pain
    • redness, itchiness, or flaking skin in the ear canal
    • you experience sudden or persistent hearing loss
    • drainage from the ear that is bloody, yellow, green, milky, or foul smelling
    • any other symptoms that seem unusual or do not go away

    It should also be noted that fluid can be trapped behind the ear drum. This is not the same as getting water in the outer ear canal after going swimming or taking a bath, though both conditions can cause similar symptoms. Fluid in the middle ear is much more common in small children than in adults, although it can occur in all age groups. If you have fluid behind the ear drum you probably won't be able to get rid of it with one of the methods listed in this article. Your doctor may choose to observe you and see if the fluid goes away on its own (usually over a period of months), or you may need the surgical placement of ventilation tubes.

    Sources:

    American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. Swimmer's Ear. http://www.entnet.org/content/swimmers-ear, 2016.

    Medical News Today. How to Get Water Out of Your Ears. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315544.php. Updated Feb 2017.

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