Monday, July 22, 2024

How to Get Water Out of Your Ear, According to ENTs

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Whether swimming in a pool or taking a long shower, getting water stuck in your ear is not an uncommon occurrence. According to Shawn Nasseri, MD, when you have water trapped in your ear, you may experience muffled hearing, or even an uncomfortable tickling sensation that travels all the way down your jaw and into your throat. Discomfort can make it tempting to grab a Q-tip and get to work, but certain methods can actually exacerbate the issue and even lead to infection.

Before diving into removal methods, it’s helpful to understand how water gets stuck in your ear in the first place. According to Maura Cosetti, MD, an ear tends to get waterlogged “usually because it gets stuck behind some wax.” But this isn’t your sign to start digging into your ear canal. “It’s sort of counterintuitive, but the more you clean your ear, the more you are at risk for getting water stuck in there,” Dr. Cosetti tells PS. This is because instruments like Q-tips can push wax deeper, or even create micro cracks for abrasions and infections to form. Since ears are largely self cleaning, the best thing to do is embrace a bit of healthy wax (and read more about how to properly clean your ears here).

To avoid any unnecessary complications, we asked two ENTs how to get water out of your ear as safely and effectively as possibly. Read on to see some of their best recommendations for how to get water out of your ear fast, along with advice for when to seek additional medical care.

Experts Featured in This Article:

Shawn Nasseri, MD, is an ENT surgeon and leader in sinus surgery, with a practice based in Beverly Hills.
Maura Cosetti, MD, is an otologist-neurotologist and the Director of the Ear Institute of New York Eye and Ear Infirmary (NYEE) of Mount Sinai.

How to Get Water Out of Your Ear

To get water out of your ear without causing further problems, give these expert-approved methods a try:

  • Shake Your Earlobe:
    “Jiggling your earlobe and shaking your head from side to side helps release water from your ear,” Dr. Nasseri says. Tilt your head in a downward direction toward the side with the trapped water, grab your earlobe, and gently shake it to try to coax the water out.
  • Lie on Your Side:
    Another common way to release trapped water from your ear is to simply lie down and let gravity do its thing. “You can try lying on your side for a few minutes with a towel to drain the water,” Dr. Nasseri says. This is a slower method and may take a few minutes, so have some entertainment on standby in case you’re down for a while.
  • Use Ear Drops:
    Using ear drops is also an effective way to help get water out of your ear. There are two different kinds of ear drops that you can use in this situation: hydrogen-peroxide drops and alcohol-based drops. According to Dr. Nasseri, hydrogen-peroxide drops are good for clearing debris and earwax from your ear (which can leave the water trapped), and alcohol-based drops are good for reducing moisture in your ear. “What we usually tell patients to do is to lay on the ear that’s not bothering them, so their affected — or the ear with the water — is up,” Dr. Cosetti says.
  • Use What You Have at Home:
    If you don’t have access to ear drops, Dr. Cosetti says you can also use vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide (all of which have an acidic pH) to drain out the ear canal. Apply as you would a typical ear drop, then wait a couple minutes before sitting back up. “A lot of people feel strongly about [home] remedies, apple cider vinegar, stuff like that — actually, that’s all totally fine,” she says, although over-the-counter ear drops work well too.

What Not to Do

If these methods aren’t immediately effective, be patient and try again — but don’t resort to sticking fingers or cotton swabs in your ear. “Using Q-tips or pressing fingers in your ear can push the water deeper into the ear, injure your ear canal, or puncture your eardrum,” Dr. Nasseri warns. Using these tactics also runs the risk of introducing bacteria into your ear canal, which can cause infection. You should also avoid pushing more water into the ear in an attempt to flush it out, Dr. Cosetti says.

When to See a Doctor

If water stays in your ears for several days, your best bet is to follow up with an ENT. “If it hasn’t improved in about one to three days, then you should actually see someone, because it can really get painful,” Dr. Cosetti says. She notes that, because people tend to get ear infections on vacation, it’s usually OK to try at-home methods for a few days until you can see a doctor.

That said, stuck water can also cause an infection, which does require medicated ear drops in order to heal. These kinds of outer ear infections typically present with more extreme pain (which may mimic a toothache). “When you develop those kinds of things in addition [to] or as part of other ear symptoms, that usually means you need a prescription,” Dr. Cosetti explains. Immunocompromised individuals may also need an oral pill in addition to the topical drops, but for the vast majority of people, the prescription drops should be able to help. Dr. Cosetti notes that those with dermatologic conditions like dermatitis and eczema may also be more susceptible to ear infections.

— Additional reporting by Chandler Plante

Alicia Geigel is a contributing writer for POPSUGAR. She has worked as a freelance writer with several online blogs and publications for over five years, including: People, Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart, and NickiSwift. When she is not writing articles on celebrity news, pop culture, or the latest movies and TV shows, Alicia is most likely binge-watching old game shows or cooking shows, taking pictures of her dog, and rooting for her favorite Philadelphia sports teams.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for PS Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.

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