Everyone has had it happen at one time or another: you get out of the pool after a swim and feel like water is trapped in your ears, causing problems with both hearing and comfort. Even though swimming is often the reason for water in the ears, fluid can get trapped in your ears any time you are exposed to water.
Most of the time, the sensation stays within the ear area. But some people find that the feeling extends into the throat or jawbone as well. Give it a bit of time, and it is likely that the water will drain out naturally.
Symptoms of Trapped Water in the Ear
The symptoms will start after you spend time in the water, such as taking a shower, bath, or going for a swim. These symptoms usually include:
- Muffled sounds
- Difficulty hearing
- Ears feel clogged
- Slight pressure in the ear
- Itching in the ear canal
- Drainage from the ear
Usually, the symptoms are mild in the beginning. Then the symptoms can turn to moderate or severe if the infection is left untreated. A moderate progression of this ear problem can lead to symptoms such as:
- Pain in the ears
- Severe pain that radiates to the neck, face, or head
- Excessive drainage from the ears
- Partial blockage in the ear canal
- Redness in the ear
What if the Water Doesn’t Drain?
If some time has passed after being in the water and you find that you still have the sensation of plugged ears, then it is possible that water is trapped in the outer ear. Short moments of exposure to water in this part of the ear are fine. But an infection can develop if the water is left in there.
When moisture is high in the outer ear canal, it creates the perfect environment for bacterial growth – which leads to an ear infection. This type of ear infection happens in the external auditory canal, and it is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear” since it is a common problem after swimming.
How to Get Water Out of the Ears
If the water doesn’t drain naturally, then a few things can be done to help the ears drain. Be proactive in your at-home care to minimize the risk of infection, helping you avoid an unnecessary trip to see a doctor.
Here are a few safe methods you can try to get water out of your ears:
- Use Gravity: Sometimes the simplest solution is to let gravity do its job. Lie on your side with the affected ear down. Consider putting a towel on the pillow to absorb water that comes out. Gravity can help with slow drainage, which will hopefully open the ear canal up again.
- Dry it Out: A hair dryer can be a good way to dry out the ears, but you should be careful and gentle with this method. Turn the blow dryer to the lowest setting. Hold it pointed at your ear, about a foot away from your head. Move the blow dryer back and forth, while tugging at the earlobe to open things up and let the warm air move into the affected area.
- Tug the Earlobes: Grab the earlobes, then gently tug and jiggle the ears. This method works best when your head is tilted toward your shoulder, letting gravity help pull out the water.
- Vacuum Trick: No, we’re not talking about the vacuum used to clean your floors! You can create a vacuum sensation by tilting your head sideways and cupping your palm over the ear. Create a good seal. Keeping the seal in place, move the palm of your hand rapidly from a cupped position to flat as you push. Maintaining the head in a tilted position allows gravity to help with the drainage.
- Vinegar and Alcohol Drops: Sometimes water gets trapped because of a buildup of earwax. Vinegar and alcohol offer an effective at-home treatment to help with the removal of excess earwax. Mix 1-part vinegar and 1-part alcohol. Lie on your side, add about a teaspoon of the solution in the ear and leave it there for a minute or so. Then, tilt your head to allow the mixture to drain out. This method should not be used if you have an ear infection, burst eardrum, or tubes in the ears.
- Over the Counter Drops: Similar to the vinegar method listed above, another option is to find an eardrop product at the drugstore that uses a hydrogen peroxide solution. Excess ear wax can make it more difficult to clear water from the ears. These products can be beneficial for clearing earwax and minimizing bacteria.
- Keep in mind that these tips only work when water is trapped in the outer ear. If you have middle ear congestion, such as the plugged feeling that happens when you have a head cold, then it might be beneficial to use an over the counter antihistamine or decongestant.
Protect Your Ears from Injury
The ears are delicate, which is why it is important to be careful about at-home remedies. Never put your finger, ear swabs, or other objects in the ear canal. Placing objects into the ear can cause the problem to worsen for several reasons:
- Introducing bacteria that could increase the risk of an ear infection
- Push the water so it moves deeper into the ear
- Injure the ear canal
- Puncture the eardrum
If you often have ear problems after swimming, a few preventive steps can be followed. Try using a swim cap or earplugs when you are in the water. Additionally, be thorough about drying the outside of the ear after swimming or showering.
Also, be aware that sweating while wearing earbuds can also lead to moisture problems within the ears if the sweat is trapped. If you are sweating, it is best to remove the earbuds.
When You Need to See an ENT for Swimmer’s Ear
One instance of having water in your ear doesn’t necessarily merit a visit to an ENT. But you shouldn’t hesitate to schedule an appointment if the symptoms are moderate or severe. It is also important to talk to an ENT if the symptoms are chronic and don’t go away after a few days. Additionally, the presence of fever could indicate an infection, which is a signal that you need to visit a doctor.
When medical treatment is needed, it is critical that you don’t wait to talk to an ENT. Untreated ear infections can lead to hearing loss, cartilage damage, and have other long-term effects on your ears.
Your doctor can help with medical treatments to remove earwax buildup and eliminate infections. If you suspect that you have a problem, then the best thing you can do is consult with a medical expert to resolve the issues and protect your ears at the same time.
Schedule an Appointment with an Experienced ENT in Frisco and Plano, TX
If you are having problems with your ears, then we invite you to schedule an appointment to talk to an ENT. Families in the Denton or Dallas areas can visit Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat for diagnosis and a personal consultation. We offer convenient locations in Frisco and Plano, TX. Call today to learn more about available services: (972) 596-4005