One of the major times water gets trapped in the ear is after swimming. However, water can also get trapped in the ear at any time of the year. This water naturally drains on its own. However, when this natural process fails to occur, you might develop an ear infection known as Otitis Externa.

If you are a regular swimmer, chances are that you have gotten water into your ears once or twice. While swimmers are the most affected, non-swimmers can also get water trapped inside their ears through exposure.
We all love to enjoy a good swim with friends and family during the summer. While is it fun to cool off and splash around in the water during the summer, there is also a good chance of water getting into the ear and getting trapped.
Generally, water trapped in the ear is expected to drain out naturally after some time. When this water does not drain out, it can lead to an infection of the external auditory canal known as the Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear.
When water gets trapped in the ear, you might experience the following:

    • Tickling sensation in affected ear that is often also felt in the throat and jawline.

    • Muffled sound or difficulty in hearing.

    • The ear feels full and in some cases, you can also feel the physical movement of water in the ear.

Water in the ear can be very discomforting. However, getting water out of the ear is something not so difficult to do. It is possible to achieve it at home without having to visit the doctor. Sometimes, all it takes to get water out of the ear is simply tilting the affected ear to the side to get the water drained.
It is important to avoid inserting all kinds of objects in the ear such as swabs, pen tips, bobby pins or even the finger in an attempt to get rid of this water. Doing this can damage the subtle lining of the auditory canal thereby increasing the risk of an ear infection. There are steps you can take to remove water from the ear which is safe to use.

What are the reasons why water gets trapped in the ear after a swim?

There are a few reasons why water can enter and stay trapped in the ear. These include a narrow ear canal, excessive ear wax in the ear or even as a result of the presence of another foreign object in the ear. No matter what the reasons are, what comes in mind when this occurs is how to get the water out.

Which people are most likely to get water trapped in their ear?

While anybody can get water trapped in their ear, children and adults who love to swim a lot are most likely to have water trapped inside their ear. This can occur at any time you go under the water while swimming. Other times when you invert yourself in the water doing a handstand or a flip, you can easily get water into your ear.

Why is it dangerous to have water trapped in the ear?

Often, the ear secrets cerumen or ear wax which is a water-repellant waxy substance which can help to get rid of water trapped in the ear naturally. When this process fails to occur naturally, then it becomes risky. It can lead to other health conditions such as swimmer’s ear.
Water in the ear creates an enabling ground for bacteria to thrive. Some of the things that makes it easy for bacterial to grow and thrive in the ear include humid and wet conditions, a cut or a scratch in the ear canal. Certain allergic reactions of skin conditions can also lead to the swimmer’s ear infection or Otitis Externa.

What is Swimmer’s Ear or Otitis Externa?

Swimmer’s ear or otitis externa is defined as the infection of the outer ear canal. Otitis externa is mostly developed in ears that are exposed to moisture. It is most prevalent in people who enjoy a lot of diving or swimming time. There are more cases of otitis externa in the summer. This is because people engage in more swimming activities in this period.
This infection can also affect the ear pinna or the tympanic membrane. Swimmer’s ear can either be a fungus or bacterial infection. According to Clinical Practice Guidelines, nearly all the cases of swimmer’s ear (98%) in North America are caused by bacterial. The most common bacterial include Pseudomonas aeruginosa with 20%-60% prevalence and Staphylococcus aureus which has a 10%-70% prevalence. Other gram-negative pathogens can cause swimmer’s ear other than Pseudomonas aeruginosa. However, these pathogens are responsible for about 2% to 3% of otitis externa in large clinical series.
There are two major types of Otitis externa the Acute Otitis Externa (AOE) and the Chronic Otitis Externa (COE). The involvement of fungi in AOE is very much uncommon, however, it can be commonplace in COE. Fungal involvement can also occur after the treatment of AOE with less often systemic or topical antibiotics.
Treating swimmer’s ear or otitis externa with topical antibiotics can be very effective for AOE when compared to oral antibiotics. In other words, oral antibiotics are less effective for the treatment of swimmer's ear. Notwithstanding, about 20%-40% of AOE patients are treated with oral antibiotics without a simultaneous administration of the topical antibiotics. In most cases, these oral antibiotics are less effective or even ineffective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus and may lead to a lot of unwanted side effects. This is because they are distributed around the body.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

Several symptoms are associated with the swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear symptoms are often mild at the inception of the infection. These symptoms can become worse if the infection is not managed on time.
The disease can also spread progressively without proper care. Otitis externa is classified according to the phase of progression by doctors. These phases include mild, moderate and advanced phases. One of the major symptoms is severe pain in the ear that worsens over time. The pain becomes more severe when the outer ear is pulled or pressed.
Redness of the outer ear may be noticed and in severe cases, swelling. AOE can lead to the inflammation and enlargement of the lymph nodes around the outer ear. Pus may also gather in the ear canal and be discharged through the ear opening. This pus is usually yellowish-green in color. The collection of pus or swelling in the affected ear can cause hearing difficulty in the affected ear.
Symptoms of the mild phase of Swimmer’s ear.
The mild signs of swimmer’s ear include:

    • Mild itching in the auditory canal

    • Slight redness may be noticed inside the auditory canal.

    • Slight redness of the eye on the affected side of the face.

    • Increased pain can be worsened by pulling the auricle or pressing the tragus.

    • Clear odorless fluid can be noticed in the affected ear.

Symptoms of the moderate phase.

    • There is increased itching of the ear canal

    • The pain increases progressively

    • The inflammation in the ear becomes more visible and large

    • Fluid drainage increases

    • Feeling of partial blockage in the ear and increased hearing difficulty.

Symptoms of the advanced phase of Swimmer’s ear

    • Pain becomes excessively severe. This pain can radiate on the face, side of the head or neck

    • The ear becomes completely blocked at this stage

    • The outer ear now becomes very swollen or red.

    • The lymph nodes in the neck become swollen.

    • Feeling of dizziness and fever.

How to prevent water from getting into the ear and getting trapped

Figure 2: Swimmer ear plugs culled from the internet
If you find water getting trapped in your ear now and then when you swim or take a bath, you can either use OTC earplugs to keep water from entering the ear canal. You can also talk to your doctor for specifications and recommendations of special earplugs designed for the major purpose of protecting the ear from water. Most people tend to shy away from these recommended earplugs because of their costs. However, these earplugs are customizable to specific ear needs which is a huge advantage over the OTC earplugs. In most cases, recommended earplugs are of high-quality, they can be washed when they are dirty and reusable.
You may also want to use a swim cap or a shower cap to prevent water from getting into the ear. Also, you can use a dry towel to clean the ear after a good swim or bath. Shaking the head from side to side after you get out of the water is also a good way to get rid of water from the ear.
For those who are very sweaty, it is advisable to remove earbuds to prevent moisture from building up in the ear naturally. Before going to the bath, get a cotton ball and cover it in petroleum jelly. Slip this cotton balls into your outer ear, it can help keep out water from entering your ear.
Always block the outer ear with a cotton ball when using beauty products such as hair dye or hair spray.
Visit your doctor once in a while to have your ear scooped and ear wax removed. For those with a problem of was the build-up, it is advisable to see the doctor. While the earwax is a good thing and plays some important functions, too much wax in the ear can trap water in the ear canal. This is why it is important to visit the doctor. The doctor might suggest the use of a 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration to clean the ear. This process cannot be performed on people with tubes in their ear and therefore, it is important to see the doctor first before proceeding.
Using the ear dropper, put half of the ear dropper-full into the ear and allow to bubble for some seconds. Turn your head to the side and pull the top of the ear gently. This will allow the ear to drain getting rid of the excess ear wax.

How to get rid of water trapped in the ear canal

If for any reason you get water trapped in your ear, there are a couple of home remedies you can try that can get rid of the water and provide some relief. These home remedies include:

·        Wiggling the earlobes

If you are lucky enough, this first method might just get the water out of the ear right away. Tilt your head to the side with the affected ear facing down towards your shoulder and gently wiggle or tug the earlobe. Shaking the head from side to side while facing the downward position can also help to get rid of the water.
What if the water refuses to come out after doing this? Don’t worry, there are other methods to try out right there in the home.

·        Utilize the power of gravity to get rid of trapped water in the ear

This is a very easy step that requires less action. Utilizing the power of gravity can help drain the trapped water from the ear. All you are simply required to do is lie down with the affected ear placed on a dry clean towel and wait there for a couple of minutes. Naturally, the water may slowly find its way out of the ear.

·        The blow dryer can be of help in getting rid of trapped water in the ear

Using the blow dryer can be an effective way to get rid of trapped water in the ear. The heat from the blow dryer can be effective, however, this method must be carried out with care.

    1. Turn the blow dryer on and set it to the lowest heat.

    1. Hold the blow dryer facing the affected ear about a foot away and move slowly forth and back while it is on.

    1. Gently tug the earlobe downward to allow the warm air to blow into the ear canal.

·        Creating a vacuum in the ear can be a useful technique

Creating a vacuum in the ear can help draw out trapped water from the ear. This method involves the following processes:

    1. Cup your palm over the affected ear and tilt it sideways facing down to the shoulder. Ensure that you create a tight seal with your palm.

    1. With the cupped palm, gently create a rapid back and forth movement flatting and cupping as you move forth and back respectively.

    1. Remember to keep the affected ear facing downward as you perform this exercise to enable the water to flow out easily.

·        The mixture of alcohol and vinegar ear drop is also effective in getting rid of trapped water in the ear

One may begin to ask why alcohol and vinegar? The little secret here is, alcohol is effective in evaporating trapped water in your can also help to prevent the growth of infection-causing bacteria in the ear. In cases where the trapped water is as a result of earwax build-up, vinegar is effective in dissolving the wax and getting rid of the water. This process involves the following steps:

    1. Combine equal amounts of vinegar and alcohol to make an eardrop.

    1. Get a sterile dropper and apply three to four drops of the mixture to the affected ear.

    1. Rub the outside of the affected ear gently for about 30 seconds before tilting the head sideways facing the shoulder. Allow the solution to drain.

While this process is effective in getting rid of trapped water in the ear, it is also not advisable to use it if you are already experiencing one of the following conditions:

    1. You are suffering from an infection of the outer ear

    1. Your eardrum is perforated

    1. You have ear tubes

·        Water trapped in the ear can be removed with the use of hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide has remained one of the medically proven effective ways of getting rid of earwax and debris in the ear that can lead to water getting trapped in the ear. There are a couple of ear drops that can be easily purchased online that effectively use the combination of hydrogen peroxide and urea to clear earwax. These kinds of ear drops are referred to as carbamide peroxide solution.
Avoid using this method if you are already experiencing the following conditions:

    1. An infection of the outer ear

    1. Your eardrum is perforated

    1. You have ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes).

·        Use olive oil to get rid of water in the ear

Besides the use of olive oil to get rid of water from the ear, it is also effective in the prevention of ear infection. Use olive oil in the following steps:

    1. Put some olive oil in a small bowl and heat till it becomes warm.

    1. Using a sterile dropper takes some drops and put it into the affected ear.

    1. Lay down on your side for some minutes (up to 10 minutes). Sit up and then tilt the affected ear downward facing the shoulder. This will allow the water and the oil to drain out.


·        Try using more water to get rid of water in the ear

While this technique may sound illogical or unreasonable, however, it works. This method can help draw the trapped water out of the ear. Do this on the following steps:

    1. Lay down on your side with the affected ear facing up. Take a sterile dropper and fill the affected ear with water.

    1. Wait for about five seconds and turn over with the affected ear now facing down.

    1. This should draw the trapped water out of the ear.


·        You can also rely on some over the counter (OTC) ear drops to get rid of trapped water in the ear

There are a lot of OTC ear drops that comprise of alcohol that are effective in getting rid of moisture in the ear. They are also effective in taking care of bacteria in the ear canal as well as earwax and other debris.

Things not to do when trying to get rid of water from the ear.

Have you tried all the above-mentioned remedies and they seem not to be working? Perhaps you should consider visiting the doctor for further examination. On no account should you try the following methods as they can be counter-effective and harmful to your ear.
Do not use cotton swabs to try to get rid of water: this method can further push ear wax and debris into your ear canal. Using this method to get rid of water can leave you at the risk of ear infection. Cotton swabs can also affect the normal ear wax that protects the ear from an ear infection as well as cause irritation to the skin of the ear canal.
Avoid sticking your fingers or your fingernails into your ears: putting your fingers or fingernails into your ear is the easiest way to scratch the skin of your ear canal. This leaves you easily exposed to an ear infection.
Use hydrogen peroxide with care: while hydrogen peroxide is an effective way of getting rid of trapped water in the ear it is also important to use it with care and caution. Do not use hydrogen peroxide if you already have a cracked eardrum. Also, do not use hydrogen peroxide if you have ear tubes.  

Endeavor to monitor your

ear health

—report any anomalies to the healthcare professional

Make your hearing health a priority and not an option. This is the only way to ensure you enjoy all the sounds all year round. Endeavor to fix appointments with your hearing professional for a hearing evaluation. When you’re diagnosed with any form of infection or hearing loss problem ensure to stick to the prescription provided by your hearing aid professional.
Trapped water in the ear usually drains naturally within three days. If you have water trapped in your ear for more than three days, you should see a doctor. If you also notice any signs of infection due to the trapped water in the ear, it is important to visit a doctor to have the ear properly examined.