Although swimming is often the cause, you can get water trapped in your ear canal from any exposure to water. If this happens, you may feel a tickling sensation in your ear. This feeling may extend to your jawbone or throat. You may also not be able to hear as well or only hear muffled sounds.
Usually, the water drains out on its own. If it doesn’t, the trapped water may lead to an ear infection. This type of ear infection in the external auditory canal of your outer ear is called swimmer’s ear.
It’s not hard to get water out of your ear on your own. These 13 tips can help.
If water does get trapped in your ear, you can try several at-home remedies for relief:
1. Jiggle your earlobe
This first method may shake the water out of your ear right away.
Gently tug or jiggle your earlobe while tilting your head in a downward motion toward your shoulder.
You can also try shaking your head from side to side while in this position.
2. Make gravity do the work
With this technique, gravity should help the water drain from your ear.
Lie on your side for a few minutes, with your head on a towel to absorb the water. The water may slowly drain out of your ear.
3. Create a vacuum
This method will create a vacuum that may draw the water out.
- Tilt your head sideways, and rest your ear onto your cupped palm, creating a tight seal.
- Gently push your hand back and forth toward your ear in a rapid motion, flattening it as you push and cupping it as you pull away.
- Tilt your head down to allow the water to drain.
4. Apply a hot compress
- Using hot but not scalding water, wet a washcloth. Make sure to wring out the washcloth before you use it so that it doesn’t drip.
- Tilt your head downward on the affected side and apply the cloth to the outside of your ear. Leave it on your ear for about 30 seconds, and then remove it for a minute.
- Repeat these steps four or five times. It may help to sit up or lie down on the side opposite of the affected side of your body afterward.
5. Use a blow dryer
The heat from the dryer can help evaporate the water inside your ear canal.
- Set your blow dryer to its lowest setting.
- Hold the hair dryer about a foot away from your ear and move it in a back-and-forth motion.
- While tugging down on your earlobe, let the warm air blow into your ear.
6. Try alcohol and vinegar eardrops
The alcohol can help evaporate the water in your ear. Alcohol also works to eliminate the growth of bacteria, which can help prevent infection. If the trapped water occurs due to earwax buildup, the vinegar may help remove it.
- Combine equal parts alcohol and vinegar to make eardrops.
- Using a sterile dropper, apply three or four drops of this mixture into your ear.
- Gently rub the outside of your ear.
- Wait 30 seconds, and tilt your head sideways to let the solution drain out.
Don’t use this method if you have any of these conditions:
7. Use hydrogen peroxide eardrops
- Using a clean dropper, place three to four drops of hydrogen peroxide into your ear.
- Wait two to three minutes.
- Tilt the affected side downward, allowing the fluid to drain out.
Don’t use this method if you think you have any of these conditions:
- an outer ear infection
- a perforated eardrum
- tympanostomy tubes (eardrum tubes)
8. Try olive oil
Olive oil can also help prevent infection in your ear, as well as repel water out.
- Warm some olive oil in a small bowl.
- Using a clean dropper, place a few drops of the oil into the affected ear.
- Lie on your other side for about 10 minutes, and then sit up and tilt the ear downward. The water and oil should drain out.
9. Yawn or chew
When water gets stuck in your eustachian tubes, moving your mouth can sometimes help to open the tubes.
Yawn or chew gum to relieve tension in your eustachian tubes.
Tilt your head to release any water from your ear.
10. Perform the Valsalva maneuver
This method can also help open closed eustachian tubes. Be careful not to blow too hard. This can damage your ear drum.
- Close your mouth and gently squeeze your nostrils shut with your fingers.
- Breathe deeply, and slowly blow the air out of your nose. If you hear a popping sound, it means the eustachian tubes have opened.
- Tilt your head to allow the water to drain from your ear.
11. Use steam
Warm steam can help release water from your middle ear through your eustachian tubes. Try taking a hot shower, or giving yourself a mini sauna with a bowl of hot water.
- Fill a large bowl with hot steaming water.
- Cover your head with a towel to keep the steam in, and hold your face over the bowl.
- Inhale the steam for 5 or 10 minutes, and then tilt your head to the side to drain your ear.
12. Try more water
This technique may sound illogical, but it can actually help draw water out of your ear.
- Lying on your side, fill the affected ear with water using a clean dropper.
- Wait five seconds and then turn over, with the affected ear facing down. All of the water should drain out.
13. Take over-the-counter medication
A number of over-the-counter eardrops are also available. Most are alcohol-based and can help reduce moisture in your outer ear canal, as well as kill bacteria or remove earwax and debris. If you have middle ear congestion, depending on the cause, over-the-counter decongestant or antihistamine therapy may help. Follow the instructions on the packaging.
If at-home remedies aren’t working, don’t resort to using ear swabs, your finger, or any other object to dig inside of your ear. Doing this may make matters worse by:
- adding bacteria to the area
- pushing the water deeper into your ear
- injuring your ear canal
- puncturing your eardrum
These simple tips can help prevent water from getting stuck in your ear in the future.
- Use ear plugs or a swim cap when you go swimming.
- After spending time immersed in water, thoroughly dry the outside of your ear with a towel.
Trapped water usually goes away without treatment. If it bothers you, you may try one of these home treatments to help relieve your discomfort. But if the water is still trapped after two to three days or if you show signs of infection, you should call your doctor.
If your ear becomes inflamed or swollen, you may have developed an ear infection. An ear infection can become serious if you don’t get treatment for it. It may lead to hearing loss or other complications, such as cartilage and bone damage. Your doctor can prescribe medications to eliminate infection and relieve pain.