Water in ear

About symptoms, causes & treatments

What you should know about symptoms, causes, treatments & Co.

Following a shower and, particularly in summer, a swim in the pool or the sea, the feeling of water in the ears is something we can all experience and may often lead to a muffled ear sensation. Usually, though, this lasts a short time without any longer-term consequences. However, on those occasions the water does not come out of the ears correctly, it may remain there for days and cause problems such as ear inflammation.

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Symptoms of trapped water in ear

Characterized by a rustling noise through the ear canal and gurgling sounds in the eardrum, the sensation of a muffled ear caused by the presence of water stuck in the ear is common. Noises in the ears can be annoying and can lead to other non-related ailments such as insomnia. Normally, the ear should reopen after a short time so that the water can drain and often just shaking or tilting the head is sufficient for it to come out.

In some cases, though, the water is stuck in the ear for days and the unpleasant sensation of muffling in the ear persists. Since water, salt and chlorine can destroy the protective film of the ear, the overall health of the ear is put at risk, thereby increasing exposure to pathogens which may even lead to an inflammation of the duct, as in swimmer's ear. What can you do to drain the water and avoid these problems?

Causes: How does water get stuck?

During a shower, bath or through swimming, water may accumulate in the ear. The water flows into your ear duct and can sometimes generate a characteristic muffled sound. This is because water floods the ear canal and settles inside the ear. It works its way through the slightly sloping ear canal down into the eardrum itself, trapping water behind the eardrum. Due to this trapped water, the eardrum is unable to move properly and no longer transmits sound effectively. This is why you may only hear muffled noises, all the while, accompanied by a low gurgle.

Consequences of water stuck in ear

Should the sensation of muffled ear persist, it may be that earwax inside the ear canal has absorbed some of the water, swelling in size and is now occluding the ear. If the pain doesn’t subside within a couple of days, this may be the sign of an ear canal infection and an appointment with a GP or ENT specialist is advised.

Water in ears can cause ear infections. Pain and itching in the ear may indicate an infection caused by germs in the water. In the event of such symptoms, your ENT specialist may prescribe an antibiotic if necessary and also remove the remaining water from the ear. Failure to treat these warning signs can, in a worst-case scenario, lead to permanent hearing loss.

Swimmer's / Surfer's ear (Otitis externa)

Known as swimmer's ear or surfer’s ear, this inflammation manifests the following symptoms:

  • Following a shower, a bath or a dive, hearing is limited and muffled.
  • Successively, one or two days later, the ear may become sensitive to the touch and begin to itch. 
  • Severe pain develops inside the ear and, when you press on the tragus on the outside of the ear canal or pull the ear, it becomes even more acute. 
  • A secretion comes out of the ear. 
  • The skin of the duct may become swollen or red.

How water influences my baby's ears

In babies and children, ear inflammation caused by water entry can develop more rapidly because their Eustachian tube is shorter and narrower and their immune systems have yet to become as strong as an adult’s. Therefore, if water containing germs flows into the baby's ear and keeps the ear canal moist, otitis media can quickly develop. 

Tympanic effusion, instead, is when liquid forms inside the ear and collects behind the eardrum. Most cases of tympanic effusion cause pain in the affected person and are more common in young children. All should be treated quickly as they can lead to pain and decreased hearing.

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Treatment: How to get rid of water in ear?

  1. If you are unable to get rid of water in the ear, try to remove it by shaking or tilting your head. You can also try soak it up by gently inserting the tip of a paper tissue into the ear canal. However, it is essential this is not excessively thick, as it could irritate the walls.
  2.  If the water remains stuck inside the ear, care should be taken. In fact, a sudden movement and the insertion of objects could cause severe and persistent ear pain.
  3.  Gentle heat from a hair dryer can also help dry the ear canal properly and get rid of water in the ear. Some precautions are necessary, though, such keeping the hair dryer a sufficient distance from the ear and using it on the lowest level of heat in order to avoid burns and other related problems.
  4. If the aforementioned steps prove ineffective and the muffled ear sensation still continues some days later, plug of wax has probably formed inside the ear. You can try treating this with specific sprays or ear drops for water in the ear, which can soften and drain the cap.
  5. Ear candles, however, are not suitable as a definitive treatment for a plug of ear wax. Likewise, they should not be used to get rid of water in the ear either.
  6. Water in the ear not only creates unpleasant ear pain but it can also be dangerous if it remains there at length. If ear inflammation has already occurred, it is strongly recommended you make an appointment with your GP or ENT specialist.

When to see a doctor

If these tips do not help and the water in your ear still doesn’t drain away, then you should urgently make an appointment with your ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, who will drain you ear and dry the ear canal. If the ears are often and repeatedly under water for a prolonged time, fluid gets deep inside the ear, right up to the eardrum and multiples complications and diseases can develop.

To this end, it is also essential to dry the ear out quickly. If someone has had water in their ears for several days, then their earwax may have already swelled up. This should also be removed by an ENT specialist in order to be able to hear fully again.

Prevention of water in the ear

There are two common ways on how to prevent water getting stuck in your ears.

Ear Plugs

If you enjoy swimming or diving, swimming earplugs can prevent water from entering your ear and its possible complications. The silicone earplugs, available at your Amplifon reference center, are the most suitable as they fully protect the ear from water penetration. There are waterproof earplugs for adults and special earplugs for children on the other to ears from water penetration. High-quality earplugs hold their shape and let sounds pass and seal the ear canals watertight, thereby preventing water from entering.

Ear drops

Great for divers, sailors or lovers of water sports, there are specific drops with glycerin and alcohol, which protect the pH value of the ear and help avoid possible inflammation deriving from contact with water. Intensive cleaning of the ears should also be avoided in order not to damage the natural protective film inside the ear. A little warm (not hot!) water is more than adequate to ensure good ear hygiene. Likewise, cotton buds are not recommended either: in fact, they can push a plug of earwax even deeper into the duct, thereby trapping the water further and making it difficult to remove. 
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Do you experience hearing loss after getting water stuck in your ear? Or would you like in general to test your hearing capabilities? Then come to one of +300 Amplifon clinics in Australia to attend a free hearing test.

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