Have you ever been swimming or even in the bathtub, tilted your head the wrong way and gotten that uncomfortable sensation of water entering your ear canal?
Often the water will drain out on its own, but if it doesn’t it can get trapped and lead to a condition known as swimmer’s ear, aka otitis externa. The sensation is uncomfortable at first – a slightly tickling, eye-watering twinge anywhere from your ear to your jawline and throat, and sound might be muffled.
But water isn’t the only thing that can exacerbate this problem. Trying to fix the problem in the wrong way using all kinds of instruments to help open up the tubes and perhaps get wax out of the way can make the problem worse or even introduce bacteria that can cause infection.
You should not use cotton swabs, pens, bobby pins, crochet needles or even your fingers for this purpose.
The trouble is, any of these instruments can cause damage to your ear canal’s delicate lining. Don’t do it! At the very least, it can cause an ear infection, and there are several safe and effective things you can do to get water to drain from your ears without making the problem worse.
Safe Methods for Removing Water From Your Ears
Nobody likes having water trapped in their ears. Frankly, it makes you miserable, but to get it out safely and without doing further damage requires an understanding of how water behaves.
Remember, gravity generally causes water, wherever it is, to seek the lowest level to settle. Evaporation, suction and wicking are other measures to try.
Gravity – Letting gravity do what it does may be the most practical way to remove water from your ears. Simply tugging or jiggling your earlobe to change the configuration of the tube leading to your ear canal, while tipping your head toward your shoulder, may do the trick.
Suction – Create a vacuum by tilting your head to the side and alternately cupping your palm tightly over your ear and away again, several times. This may help move the water or at least loosen it up so it can be pulled out.
Evaporation – Experts recommend using a blow dryer for this purpose. Place it on its lowest setting for both force and heat, hold it about a foot from your ear and move it slowly back and forth to distribute the force of the air directed toward your ear. This may help evaporate the trapped water.
Simultaneously, do the earlobe-tugging maneuver. You may run out of hands, though, so you might need someone to help you with this method.
Wicking — Similar to the way cellphones accidentally dropped in water can be miraculously resurrected (under the right conditions) by placing it into a bag of uncooked rice, wicking may work to remove water trapped in your ear.
Try using a dry towel or washcloth to clean your ears immediately after bathing. Using a warm-to-hot washcloth as a compress over your ear to drain, soothe and combine several of the above methods may also be helpful.
Evaporation plus infection prevention – Combining alcohol and vinegar 1-to-1 in a sterile dropper may have the combined effect of helping the water evaporate while preventing bacterial growth.
Place three to four drops into your ear with your head tilted to the side to let the solution work for a few minutes, then drain.
Flushing and draining – A 1-to-1 mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide in a dropper and used the same way may help soften wax and allow trapped water to drain from your ear.
You may feel ‘fizzing’ hear popping noises and even experience a deep itch inside of your ear. Tilt your head to the side, use three or four drops of the solution and let it percolate for a few minutes before draining.
If you already have an ear infection, a perforated eardrum or tubes in your ears or your child’s, options involving drops are not recommended.
Prevention and Why It’s Important
When dogs emerge from water, they shake their heads vigorously from side to side sending a spray of water in all directions to get excess water off their coats, but as a preventative measure this may have just as much to do with shaking water out of their ears.
It might look odd, but this method too, would be worth the strange looks you might get. Especially if water in your ears has a tendency to cause problems, wearing a swim cap or ear plugs when showering or swimming would be worth any inconvenience.
In fact, doctors advise people involved in water sports or in water frequently for any other reason to wear ear plugs.
Infection is the thing to be most vigilant to prevent. That’s most important if the water comes from a lake or river where the water may be polluted. Harmful bacteria in the water can cause swimmer’s ear.
Your risk of developing swimmer’s ear increases if you have eczema, psoriasis or a similar chronic skin disorder, according to Otolaryngologyists -Head and Neck Surgery specialists.
Other conditions that may also make swimmer’s ear more prevalent include:
- Excess moisture in your ear.
- Scratches or cuts in your ear canal.
- Allergies to skin or hair products or jewelry.