What to do if water does not come out of your ear

Anyone can encounter a situation where water gets into their ear – this happens when swimming in a pool or natural body of water, washing their hair and in other circumstances. Often everything goes away on its own, but in some cases the situation becomes more complicated.

What not to do if water gets into your ear

Ear congestion, weakening and even complete disappearance of hearing, acute pain – all these are consequences that can occur if water gets into the ear. They do not always develop, but their appearance can cause serious discomfort, and in some situations patients even require treatment. Let’s find out what you need to know about this common problem.

Symptoms of water getting into the ear

It is usually not difficult to understand that water has entered the ear – this condition has quite characteristic signs.

1. Feeling of ear fullness

This is perhaps one of the earliest and most common symptoms indicating that water is stuck in the ear and is not coming out. Additionally, a person may experience a sensation of fluid transfusion in the ear.

2. The ear does not hear

Due to water stuck in the ear, hearing may decrease or even disappear completely. As a rule, this is only a temporary symptom that disappears after the water comes out. 

3. Ear hurts

You may experience pain in the ear, including shooting pain, as well as a headache localized on the side of the affected ear.

“The water contains pathogenic microflora that can cause inflammation in the ear. The likelihood of such an outcome is increased by wax plugs in the ears, which can prevent water from leaving the ear, explains otolaryngologist Daniil Sosnovsky. — Symptomatically, this is manifested by pain in the external auditory canal. If left untreated, inflammation in the external auditory canal can cause unilateral headaches along the nerve endings of the cranial nerves. It is worth noting, however, that even such a symptom is not proof that the inflammation has spread to the brain.”

4. Feeling of resonance

If water gets stuck in the ear, autophony can occur, a phenomenon caused by the water creating a resonance that distorts the perception of sound. Because of this, the patient may hear his own voice along with noise in the ear.

What to do if water does not come out of your ear

First, you can try to cope on your own at home.

1. Jumping . A couple of jumps with your head tilted towards the ear in which the water is stuck can help deal with the problem.

2. Cotton turundas . You can try to get rid of water in the ear using cotton turundas – rolled cotton wool, which you need to blot the external auditory canal. In most cases, cotton wool absorbs water and the unpleasant symptoms, along with the feeling of congestion, disappear. There is no need to use cotton swabs , as there is a risk of damaging the eardrum (2).

 3. Other methods . “If such remedies do not help, the situation has not changed or even gotten worse, you should immediately contact an ENT doctor for an in-person visit,” reminds Daniil Sosnovsky.

There are several reasons for this development of events. The patient’s personal characteristics may be to blame, for example, an anatomically narrow external auditory canal. We are all asymmetrical by nature: one of the external auditory canals may be narrow, while the other is closer to generally accepted norms.

Other reasons include: hypersensitivity of the walls of the external auditory canal, when contact with conditional shampoo causes irritation; blockage (obstruction) of the ear canal with sulfur masses; chronic diseases associated with the middle ear. The most common of them are: perforation of the eardrum or cholesteatoma of the middle ear, tumor formation (1).

In the presence of chronic diseases in the ear, any drop of water becomes a catalyst for exacerbation of the process in the middle ear. Patients with such diseases should protect the ear from water on an ongoing basis, and if a problem arises, seek routine medical care for a preoperative consultation with an otosurgeon.

This is a rare specialty throughout the world; specialized centers and departments are even rarer.

In our country, for example, such pathologies in all directions are dealt with by the department of ear microsurgery at City Clinical Hospital No. 52 of the Department of Health.

What not to do if water gets into your ear

Some methods of getting rid of water in the ear can be dangerous.

1. Attempt to dry . Under no circumstances should you try to dry the wet external auditory canal with a hairdryer or alcohol-containing products, such as boric alcohol.

2. Cotton swabs . No need to use cotton swabs or earplugs. In both cases, complications of an acute situation can occur: from superficial trauma to the external auditory canal to a more active inflammatory process.

Why is water in the ear dangerous?

Despite the fact that water often comes out on its own without additional action, sometimes it remains inside for a long time, causing unpleasant and even dangerous consequences.

Swelling of sulfur plug

One of the most common and, fortunately, least dangerous consequences. It develops in patients whose ear canals are clogged with wax.

Otitis of the external ear and otitis of the middle ear

Water stuck in the ear can trigger an inflammatory process – otitis media , in which the patient feels pain, experiences fever and other unpleasant symptoms.

Exacerbations of chronic diseases

“Water getting into the ear can cause exacerbation of chronic diseases, as discussed above. The consequences can last a lifetime,” the expert adds.

Measures to prevent water from getting into your ears when swimming

We are all individuals, and each ear is unique . Try to protect your ears from water in the following ways – one of them will probably work for you. 

1. Hat or earplugs

You can use a cap or earplugs when swimming. 

“Everything is individual here. I myself have tried earplugs and through them personally, water gets into my external auditory canal, but for some this method may work,” explains Daniil Sosnovsky.

2. Sealed ear closure

If a person has chronic inflammatory processes in the ears and there are contraindications to planned surgical treatment, and therefore it is important to protect the ears from water, then it is advisable to tightly close the ear, for example, when using a bath or shower. To do this, you can use cotton wool with rich cream or shaving foam while bathing. Important: the ear should not be permanently closed.

3. Prevention of the formation of sulfur plugs.

There are special drops for patients with excessive sulfur formation, but pharmaceutical hydrogen peroxide is also suitable if there are no contraindications to its use (3). Before using any remedy, you should consult a doctor, and the “gold standard” would be a scheduled ENT examination every six months or year.

Reviews and recommendations from an otolaryngologist

“You should not self-medicate by trying questionable remedies, or let the situation take its course if your health worsens. If there is no improvement, you should contact a specialist. People who choose otorhinolaryngology as their specialty in our country spend at least 8 years of their lives on their qualifications,” says Daniil Sosnovsky.

Memo for adults and children: what to do if water gets into your ear

  1.  In a horizontal position of the body, turn your head towards the stuffy ear. The movement is performed slowly to smoothly drain water along the wall of the outer passage.
  2. The cotton wool can absorb water in the outer passage. It is important to make the turunda of such a size that the patient can definitely get it on his own or with the help of loved ones. 
  3. Jump on one leg with your head tilted to the side. “It’s strange from the outside, but personally, this method always helps me after swimming,” admits expert Daniil Sosnovsky. 


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