We all know the feeling of irritation that can come from sensing you have water in your ears. It can be uncomfortable, frustrating and sometimes even worrying. For some people, they can feel like it will never go away again and that they will always have it there. It makes for a really difficult day for some, and, depending on your job, it may actually hamper how well you can perform, and even the way you can evaluate risks.
In fact, this is a feeling caused by unwanted liquid, and because the ear really does not want it there we need to do what we can to get rid of it as soon as possible. Though the risks of damage are not huge, they are still there, and you want to do what you can to minimize them, in case damage is done over time, or in case you try to take the wrong kind of remedial action that may also cause upset to the functioning of your ear.
Fortunately, there are ways to safely assist in getting rid of the water or liquid and making sure that your day – and your hearing – returns to normal as soon as possible.
Shifting the fullness and pressure
One of the most sensible courses of action to follow is to use eardrops to help shift the water from your ear. There are commercially available drops and these can be dripped into the ear canal readily. They work to gradually reduce pressure by helping the water that is trapped there gradually move out of the ear canal.
Be careful not to overuse them, however, as they can then become an additional problem. As some of them have a slightly oily texture, they can, if overused, actually be harder to get rid of than the water.
Another way of moving the water from your ear canal is to use some gently lukewarm mineral oil, which can assist in ‘breaking’ the water so that the canal flushes itself clean and clear. Typically, such mineral oils contain glycerin as the active ingredient, so look out for them at the pharmacist.
Additionally, you could also try using over-the-counter decongestant drops, though the chances of this option being absolutely necessary are quite low. Usually other methods will work, so be reassured.
In some cases, you may not realize you have water in the ear, and the main symptom you will feel is a kind of itching inside the ear canal.
Itching can be a very irritating sensation, and it’s actually a sign that something isn’t quite right inside your ear. Sometimes, it’s actually been caused by water being trapped inside. Remember, it can only take a very small amount of water to make you feel something weird is going on, and in fact even a small amount of water can feel like a great mass, so sensitive is the ear.
The itching is actually a sign that there is a degree of inflammation in the ear, so you should not ignore it. It may be wax or water related, but it also may be an infection, so if you have an itch that does not shift, get it checked out by the doctor.
The most sensible way to try a home remedy to alleviate the itching is with oil. Olive oil or almond oil dripped in through an appropriate dripper can help to soothe the itch and soften any blockages in the ear canal. This in turn helps to release the water trapped inside. It should only take a few minutes before you feel something happening in the ear, as the oil works its way through.
As we said, however, do not overload the ear canal. It really does require just a very little oil to start it working.
A discharge from the ear can be upsetting to see, but it need not necessarily be a problem. Often, a discharge is part of the body’s natural healing process, and is nothing to worry about. In the case of water entering your ear canal, it’s likely that your body is producing more wax than usual to expel the water. This wax sometimes contains trapped water, which then gets expelled as a clear or light yellow liquid.
It may look unsightly, but it is in fact quite often what you want to see, as it means the ear is gradually cleansing itself and ridding itself of the blockages. You may not get your full hearing back on the first discharge, so do not worry unduly. The chances are the second or third bits of release will come quite soon after the first, and these will often be enough to restore full hearing and get you back your presence of mind!
Sometimes, however, a discharge can be an indication of an infection, which requires medical attention. So if your discharge persists, even after trying various methods to remove the water from your ear, then it’s best to see a doctor.
Possible hearing loss
There is a possibility, perhaps even a likelihood, that water in the ear may cause temporary hearing loss, as it could block sound from entering the ear. But how can you actually tell if you have suffered hearing loss due to water in the ear, or if there is a more permanent issue?
In reality, you will probably be able to locate an event or activity that has led to the water entering your ear. Even washing your face thoroughly, or having a shower, can be causes. Do not alarm yourself unduly.
The hearing loss may also be accompanied by a sudden ringing in your ears, a condition known as tinnitus. Actually, tinnitus can come to many of us at almost any time, and does not necessarily mean water is in your ears. The occasional moment of tinnitus is not anything to worry about unduly, but if you do find you are often experiencing this feeling, see an ear specialist or doctor.
Causes of Water In The Ear
Swimming or bathing
Swimming is the main cause of water in the ear. As the head submerges, even with earplugs there remains a risk of water entering the ear canals. You will often not know this has happened, of course, until you have finished your swim.
Bathing is also a main cause, especially one of those long soaks where you lie and submerge or where you rinse your hair first by sinking under the bubbles!
If you want to avoid the risk altogether, it is relatively easy to moderate your style of bathing, but it can be harder to offset the risks of swimming, so if you really absolutely want to avoid water in the ears, avoid swimming, especially in the sea.
Washing your face or hair
The main causes in these scenarios are water running down your face or head as you rinse or soap. Even tipping your head the wrong way in a shower can cause water in the ear, so make sure to keep the head as protected as possible from this by not rolling it around under the jets.
Using a cotton swab too vigorously
This is something to take care with. In fact, many people suggest never using cotton buds or swabs at all. As the old saying goes, ‘Never put anything smaller than a fist in your ear!’
If you do use them, it can be too easy and tempting to insert the swab too deeply and therefore find you have exerted too much pressure. This really is a risk, so avoid it. You can cause some damage to the ear, and even end up puncturing an eardrum.
If you do actually have water in the ear this is almost certainly a counterproductive thing to do. You may think you will ‘absorb’ the water on the swab, but you are more likely to push it and any other waxy build-up further in, exacerbating the problem.
You are better simply trying to tilt the head to allow the water to work its way out on its own, though you may find that it can take time before you feel any movement.
Treatments For Water In The Ear
Gravity exists, remember! If you tilt your head and allow gravity to enable the water to work its way out, you will eventually have release. Tilt your head to the side so that the affected ear is facing downwards, and make sure you stay in this position for about a minute, as this will help to drain the water out of your ear.
Sometimes, there can be a temptation to shake the head and urge the water out, but try to avoid this, as the head does not like being shaken like that and it won’t necessarily make the water’s exit any faster.
Using drops to soften wax buildup
Drops need to be used with care, but the right kind of drops can soften the water, or the wax that might be trapping the water, and will help ensure everything eventually makes its way out.
Be aware, however, that this is not an instant solution. It may take a few days of repeat applications before there is a notable difference. In the meantime, do not overuse the drops, as most of the liquid will be excess that just stays in the ear canal and does not help dilute the blockage.
Ensure no cotton buds or Q-tips enter the ear
Such options can actually cause damage. The chances of damaging your eardrum increase significantly when using inflexible objects. Remember that these objects are quite solid, and actually quite hard, even though there may be a tiny bit of fluff on them. Additionally, pushing things into our ears can lead to infection or damage the delicate tissue inside your ear canal.
Doing a “Valsalva maneuver”
This is a move not many have heard of, though quite a few will have performed it.
It involves holding your breath and pinching your nostrils, and then breathing in and out of your mouth. This can help push air into the middle part of your ear, allowing the water to escape.
Be careful, however! It’s important to note that this maneuver should only be used sparingly and cautiously. Overuse, or performing the maneuver aggressively, can lead to ruptured ear drums. So make sure to try it gently to start with. If it is ever going to work, it will actually work under very modest pressure, so you really do not need to go hard at it here. Gently does it.
Ear irrigation is a procedure that can be used to remove excess earwax or other foreign bodies from the ear. It involves using a syringe to flush warm water into the ear canal, and then gently suctioning out any debris.
The truth is that ear irrigation is an extremely safe procedure when done correctly. You absolutely will have to get it performed by an auricular specialist or a doctor, so they will look after you and usually have visual screens to show you what they are doing. It is a reassuring and almost always highly effective process, if all else has failed.
It is usually the case that relief is instant, and that you have only needed around fifteen minutes per ear to have the problem sorted.
Home Remedies for Water In The Ear
Wiggling the earlobe
It may not be the most elegant thing to do in public, but when you wiggle your earlobe you create a vibration that can help push the water out from the ear canal. It also can aid in massaging the ear area, which can offer some relief to the pressure that can come with having water in your ear.
Applying a few drops of alcohol to the area
This is not a treatment that many people ever know about, but it can aid a little in alleviating symptoms.
Rubbing alcohol into the ear – gently, and with only a tiny amount of liquid, of course – has both antiseptic and also drying properties. This last point can seem counterintuitive, given that alcohol is a liquid, but its properties are to dry up areas with which it comes into contact.
It can therefore help absorb or break down the oils and water droplets that are stuck in your ear, making them easier to remove.
But in order to do this safely, make sure you dilute it with equal parts water. That way, it will be safe to use in your ear while still being effective. Too concentrated a burst of alcohol may sting a little.
Rinsing with warm water
Again, this may seem an unexpected solution, but for many people the heat from just a small amount of warm water can do the trick in breaking down the blockages in the ear and allowing them to dilute and exit naturally.
Warm water can actually help loosen up any stubborn colder water that’s stuck in your ear, and as long as the temperature isn’t too hot, it won’t damage your ear canal either. Ideally, use a bulb syringe with lukewarm water and gently squirt the water inside your ear. Allow the water to drain out, then repeat until all the water is gone. If you don’t have a syringe, use a teaspoon instead.
Applying a warm compress
A warm compress works to alter ear pressure and in doing so can help to release any water that is stuck inside your ear.
Take a cloth, such as a hand towel, and dip it in warm – but not hot – water. Wring it out until it is damp, but not dripping wet. Place the warm cloth on the affected ear for around 15 minutes, or until the cloth cools down.
There is a good chance this will assist in the exiting processes of the water or wax and water that is stuck there.
Use an over-the-counter ear drying solution
There are products on the market that can assist and these are sometimes called ‘ear-drying solutions’
They tend to come as droplet solutions, and you will need to read the packet to ensure you apply the right dose, but usually a small drop or two is enough at any one time.
Once you’ve dripped in the solution, you will usually need to tilt your head back and forth and perhaps even shake it very lightly to help the water come out of your ear.
If the blockage is stubborn, you may need to repeat the process.
You can often try a variety of approaches from among those we have listed above. The truth is that this is usually a problem that solves itself quite easily if you use the methods we have suggested. Do not panic, but of course if you continue to have symptoms after days, or find that your hearing is getting worse, get it checked out. If you overstimulate the ear, it can be counterproductive, at least in the short term, so do be careful. Remember, the ear is highly sensitive, and is also sophisticated enough to help itself to get rid of water. Ease the process along, but do not force the process along, or you may make things worse.