Swimming is a great way to get exercise and cool off—especially in the summertime. But if you’ve ever felt sloshing, a tickling sensation or pressure in your ears after taking a dip, you may have some water trapped inside.
There are several reasons water can get trapped, whether you have a narrow ear canal or excessive ear wax built up. Water can get stuck in your ears anytime you go underwater. Usually, water will naturally drain out of your ears on its own, but if it doesn’t, it can lead to some trouble.
“When water doesn’t trickle out on its own, you could risk developing swimmer’s ear, a type of ear infection in the outer ear canal or the opening of the ear to the eardrum,” said Heather Coffman, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “You may experience ear pain, loss of balance and coordination, ringing in your ears and sore throat and possibly hearing loss.”
If you’ve got water in your ears, this probably doesn’t sound very fun to you. To prevent water from remaining in your ears and causing you problems, Dr. Coffman shared the following techniques.
These five tips will help get rid of water in your ears:
- Let time and gravity do the trick. Lie on your side where the water is trapped and rest your head on a towel to absorb the water. Slowly but surely the water should make its way down and out of your ear.
- Try rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. This can help dry out the ear canal. Use caution, however. Don’t use alcohol drops if you have a perforated eardrum, as this will cause severe pain, and high levels could be toxic to the ear. Read “How to Properly Use Ear Drops” for helpful tips and recommendations.
- Use a hairdryer. Pull down on your ear gently to help straighten the ear canal with one hand and with the other, use the hairdryer on the cool setting to dry out your ear.
- Chew, yawn, shake and tug. When water gets stuck, move your mouth and jaw around to help move your TMJ, or jaw joint, which is connected to your ear canal. Shake your head to provide added assistance. You can also gently tug on the outer portion of your ear to straighten out the ear canal and allow water to drain out.
- Avoid using your finger, cotton swab or other objects. As tempting as it may be, avoid poking around inside your ear. Doing so may push obstructions deeper into your ear canal and puncture your eardrum. It can also scratch away the protective waxy layer inside your ear canal, which can provide an opening for bacteria to grow.
How to prevent water from getting in your ears
Try wearing swim plugs or a swim cap to help prevent water from entering your ears. When you’re done swimming, dry your ears thoroughly with a towel.
When to seek help
If you’re unable to drain water with the above techniques and are plagued with ear pain or pressure:
Save your spot for a virtual or in-person urgent care visit.
Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider.
Schedule an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist.