Do you still have water in your ears after swimming? No reason to panic! But if it gets stuck for a longer period of time, water in the ear causes an unpleasant feeling and can even become dangerous in the long run. In most cases, however, it is very easy to get rid of it with simple home remedies. In some cases, however, a visit to the doctor is unavoidable to rule out possible infections. In this article you will learn everything about water in the ear.
We will explain to you how water feels in the ear, why and where it gets stuck in the ear in the first place. We will also show you what you should do in this case, what you should pay attention to and how you can prevent water from ending up in your ear in the first place. When it could become dangerous and when you should see a doctor is also covered. Finally, you get our selection of simple home remedies, tips and tricks on how to easily and safely remove water from your ears!
the essentials in brief
- Water can get into the ear, for example when you swim or bathe underwater. The water runs through the ear canal and gets caught in a hollow just in front of the eardrum.
- Your sense of hearing can appear altered: noises sound like they are going through cotton wool, you may hear a whooshing or crackling sound.
- But there is no reason to panic! If your eardrum has not already been damaged, you can usually get rid of the water with simple home remedies. If you feel pain or the water stays in your ear for a few days, you should consult a doctor.
Definition: How does water feel in the ear?
Water in the ear can feel different. Maybe you just have water in your ears that got in after swimming, diving or bathing and that's exactly what it feels like: like water in your ears. However, your ears can also feel stuffy , like you have earplugs on, or like cotton wool has been put in your ears. Sounds can also sometimes sound quieter or farther away.
But they can also sound like you're underwater. Noises that you make yourself, such as talking, swallowing or chewing, can appear significantly louder. In addition, noise or crackling can be heard. In some cases, however, the fluid is produced by the ear itself. It is then possibly a side effect of a cold or an ear canal infection.
Background: What you should know about water in the ears
In this section you will learn what can cause water in your ear, where exactly water can collect and what to look out for if you get the feeling that you have water in your ear. We will also show you what you can do about it and when you should definitely see a doctor.
Why do you have water in your ears?
Water in the ear has two possible causes. Everyone knows the phenomenon after swimming or bathing: after contact of the ears with water, liquid has settled in the ear. In this case, the water gets into the ear from the outside. If the water does not come out again immediately, an unpleasant feeling arises. The anatomy of our ears is to blame for the fact that water often gets stuck in the ears.
After swimming, you often have water in your ears. This is especially important for regular swimmers. (Image Source: CHUTTERSNAP / Unsplash)
But there are also cases where the water has formed inside the ear. The ear produces an effusion, which is technically called a tympanic effusion(1). This can be a symptom of the common cold, but it can also be an ear infection caused by bacteria(13) and can get worse if left untreated. If you have water in your ear without having been in contact with water, you should definitely see a doctor!
Where and how does water collect in the ear?
Our ear canal is quite narrow and it slopes slightly at the end. At the end of the auditory canal, just in front of the eardrum membrane, there is a hollow (2). This acts like a collecting basin and water can collect there, which makes it easier for the bacteria to access the eardrum. But deposits of ear secretion can also mean that the water no longer simply drains off. These deposits can swell up when they come into contact with water and block the ear canal.
Due to their adhesive power, drops of water can also get stuck on the eardrum. Fortunately, it is not dangerous if water gets into your ear while diving or bathing, as long as the ear has not been damaged. The eardrum acts as a natural barrier against contaminants and fluids, protecting the inner ear from potential damage.
How long can you have water in your ear?
For Roland Laszig, who works in the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at the Freiburg University Hospital, there is no reason to panic: water itself is not very problematic for your ears(3). But you should definitely get the water out of your ear after bathing. If the water is polluted, it could become a problem. If the water stays in the ear for a while, it can lead to health complications. Symptoms can appear no later than two days after infection.
In the swimming pool or bathing lake, the water usually has a certain amount of bacteria. Your ear canal is warm and poorly ventilated and can quickly become an incubator for germs and fungi. Painful inflammation can also develop, since the skin is softened by the moisture and can no longer fulfill its protective function.
Left unattended, infections can spread, and sometimes from the ear canal to the eardrum and even deeper into the middle ear. From there they can attack the inner ear and even the meninges(2). The culprits are bacteria that are found in almost all bodies of water, but have not been destroyed by chlorine or salt in swimming pools.
What should I watch out for if I have water in my ear?
According to Laszig, inserting cotton swabs or other pointed objects into one's ears is completely forbidden(3). Cotton buds are also completely superfluous for everyday care and would transport the earwax deep into the ear. Dirt, dust or bacteria also get deeper into the ear and can form a plug over time.
If you already have a ruptured eardrum or a tympanic tube, you should absolutely avoid contact with water. Bacteria could get through the damaged eardrum into the middle ear with the water and lead to serious inflammation. The human body was not made to live in water. With frequent contact with water, the auditory canal can no longer be properly lubricated(4). If this happens, it may cause itching or pain in the ears.
When should I see a doctor for water in my ear?
If you have an earache, you should definitely see a doctor. One complication that can occur is ear canal inflammation, also known as bathing otitis. This is probably banal but extremely painful. You can tell by pulling on the pinna or pressing on the cartilage in front of the ear canal. If you have pain, you can assume that it is an inflammation(6).
This table gives you an overview of the cases in which you should definitely see a doctor:
|symptom||doctor's visit necessary||No need to see a doctor|
|Skin inside ear swollen or red||X|
|Water in the ear, no pain||X|
|Secretion flows out of the ear||X|
|Water flows out of the ear||X|
|chronic ear canal inflammation||X|
|Water in the ear for a couple of hours||X|
|Water in the ear for several days||X|
If the skin in the ear is swollen, red, or if a secretion is flowing out of the ear, it is probably also an ear canal infection (7), which is caused by the bacteria in the water. In general, people who have a leaky eardrum should see a doctor as a precaution if they get water in their ear. If you often have an ear canal infection after swimming, you should also see a doctor.
How can I avoid water in the ear?
People who have a damaged ear should take extra precautions and wear earplugs when bathing or swimming. It's a simple measure to prevent water from getting in your ears in the first place. Earplugs can be bought at sporting goods stores or pharmacies and are particularly suitable for swimmers and divers who regularly come into contact with water(4).
To avoid water in your ears, you can easily use earplugs. (Image Source: Mark Paton / Unsplash)
Another precautionary measure is to strengthen the ear's natural protective barrier with what are known as scuba drops. These are acidic ear drops that have a nourishing and antiseptic effect and can be used to prevent inflammation of the ear canal(5). These are made in the pharmacy. They have a disinfecting effect and prevent the spread of bacteria and are used not only to prevent but also to treat inflammation of the external auditory canal.
Water in the ear: The best tips & tricks to remove water from the ear
Almost anything is allowed to get water out of the ears: jumping, turning, lying on one side or creating negative pressure with the palm of your hand. If these measures don't work, we have put together a few other tips and tricks for you to help you drain water from your ear.
- Bend your head and pull your ear
- The kangaroo method
- Dry with a cloth
- Alcohol Vinegar Mixture
Caution: The following widespread advice can be dangerous! You should avoid removing the water with cotton swabs as you could damage your eardrum. It is therefore not advisable to shake your head too vigorously, as this can lead to injuries, especially in children.
Get rid of water in the ear at the doctor
If you're in pain, a visit to the doctor is essential to make sure your ear hasn't been seriously damaged. dr medical Jörg Lutz, ENT doctor in Essen, warns:
You should never try to treat an ear infection yourself(9).
In the case of an infection, painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, anti-inflammatory ear drops or ointments can be prescribed by the doctor. Antibacterial and acetic acid ear drops are also often prescribed because the vinegar and the ear have a similar PH value , thus restoring the ear to its original microclimate(8). If the water no longer comes out of the ear, it can be thoroughly cleaned (6) and treated in this way by a specialist doctor using a suction device.
Get rid of water in the ear with home remedies
Water in the ear is annoying! Fortunately, it is usually not bad and even very easy to get rid of yourself. You can get rid of water in your ear with these simple home remedies.
Bend your head and pull your ear
The simplest and fastest solution! This is where gravity works. Sometimes just tilting your head sideways is enough to let the water flow out. For example, you can lie down on your bed and let your head hang slightly over the edge of the bed.
If necessary, simply lie with your head on one side until all the water has drained out(9).
By pulling on the auricle or earlobe, the auditory canal is mobilized and the water may be released. You can also gently press the cartilaginous prominence. Afterwards, the outer area of the ear canal should be carefully dried with a clean handkerchief(4).
You really have to be careful when you shake your head. Children, especially, should not shake their heads too vigorously, as this can cause stress on the skull and brain, which can result in a shaking trauma or lesion(10). To avoid this, there are many other tricks in this article that are easy and safe to use!
The kangaroo method
Sometimes jumping around aimlessly is not enough and a proven method is needed! You should stand on one leg and jump up and down vigorously (14), like a kangaroo. With the so-called kangaroo method, the name says it all. At the same time, you should tilt your head towards the jumping leg so that the water can drain off. It might look silly, but the pressure it creates can work wonders!
Dry with a cloth
according to dr medical Drying your ears after swimming is very important to Lutz. This not only prevents water in the ear, but also general ear canal infections. You can try using the end of a clean towel to dry the outer parts of the ear to suck out the water. Try to make sure there is no water left in the ear canal(9).
Caution: do not use cotton swabs!
Under no circumstances should you use a cloth like a cotton swab and press it into your ear. That way the water could get in even further. Alternatively, you can try siphoning off the water with a handkerchief. To do this, carefully insert the corner of the handkerchief into your ear. Be careful not to go too deep as there is a potential risk of injury. It's about sucking out the water and not letting it penetrate any deeper.
If the water is very close to the eardrum, equalizing the pressure can help get rid of it(4). This phenomenon is already known from snorkeling or from the plane. You can hold your nose and gently blow air into your nose. Since the oral cavity and the inner ear are connected, this creates pressure on the eardrum. You can also try creating a vacuum. To do this, press your hand on the ear and alternate between pressing and releasing until the water runs out.
Make sure the corresponding ear is facing down. Another way to put pressure on the eardrum is to blow your nose. This creates pressure that pushes the water out of the ear canal. However, you should be careful not to overdo it, otherwise there is a risk of injury.
Yawning also creates a change in pressure that can help drain water. If you can't yawn, you could try chewing gum or something similar to create the same effect.
The water may also be stuck in your eustachian tubes. A warm compress may help get rid of the water in your ear. To do this, simply take a washcloth and dip it in warm but not boiling water. After wringing it out well, you can put it on your ear for half a minute. When doing this, you should lay the side of your head with the plugged ear down and place the cloth on the outside of the ear.
Repeat the process 4-5 times with a one-minute break each time(11,12). You can also try drying your ear canal with a hair dryer. This will evaporate the water and free your ear. Just be careful not to burn your ear by staying at least 30cm away and using the lowest setting(11). Sometimes it also helps to lie on the other side after the procedure.
Alcohol Vinegar Mixture
To get rid of water in your ear while preventing infection, a mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar will help(10). You can use an eyedropper to slowly drip the solution into the affected ear and let the liquid drain out. The acid dissolves the earwax and removes possible obstructions, as well as breaking down surface tension.
Vinegar also has an antibacterial effect. The alcohol also allows the water to evaporate faster. You can usually find these ingredients in regular stores. As an alternative to rubbing alcohol, you can also use rubbing alcohol. If you don't particularly like the smell of vinegar and alcohol, similar mixtures are also available at pharmacies or drugstores.
Water in the ear is annoying, but usually not too bad as long as it comes out quickly. However, a wet ear is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi and can lead to inflammation in the long term. If a serious, painful ear infection has been ruled out, you can use simple home remedies to drain the water again. It is usually enough to jump, pull on the earlobe or gently press on the auricle or ear cartilage.
You can also use a variety of methods to apply pressure to your eardrum to drain the water. The problem can also be eliminated very well with heat, but attention must be paid to the possible risk of burns.
But if you have pain or the water in your ear does not originally come from outside, you should definitely visit a doctor. It can be a serious inflammation of the auditory canal, which should definitely be examined and treated by a doctor. If your eardrum was already leaking before coming into contact with the water or if you have recurring ear canal infections after swimming, you should also see a doctor.
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