While water-associated ear infections are certainly common in aquatic athletes (after all, swimmer’s ear has earned its title), many people assume excess fluid in the ear canal is a condition exclusive to swimmers, surfers, and water sport hobbyists. In truth, anyone can wind up with water trapped in their ears, and it can happen anywhere and anytime they are exposed to water — including during an everyday bath or shower.
Beyond the obvious discomfort that ensues when excess water gets stuck in the ear canal, instances that aren’t promptly addressed can lead to infections such as the dreaded swimmer’s ear. Because this scenario is relatively common, scheduling a doctor’s appointment is inconvenient and usually unnecessary, so home remedies are often a solid initial touchpoint. So how do you get water out of your ears?
If you find yourself or a loved one waterlogged, start by referencing this roundup of old-school DIY standbys and modern-day upgrades. Always consult your physician first if you have any existing or suspected general health or ear issues, and use caution when attempting any type of home remedy. If you are unable to easily dislodge the water in your ears, don’t force any one method, and proceed to your doctor’s office for treatment.
- Jumping up and down
Jumping up and down is one of a series of removal methods that rely on gravity to remove water in your ears. This requires some coordination, as it involves a silly-looking dance of sorts.
Lift one leg and hop on your dominant foot while tilting the affected ear downward. The force of your weight hitting the ground will occasionally push trapped water out of the ear. It’s important to note that this strategy, as with most home-rigged methods, may only be effective for a small quantity of water that is set at a very shallow point in the ear canal. Deeper-rooted water may require an official doctor-approved solution or professional treatment.
The tilt-and-smack also enlists the help of gravity and force to loosen small quantities of liquid. Again, tilt your head so the affected ear is facing downward toward your shoulder, then use the opposite hand to gently tap the other side of your head.
It goes without saying, but for the sake of caution: Because repeated force to the head is never advised, it’s important to use modest judgement here. A gentle hand is key, and if the water is not easily dislodged with light tapping, your case of waterlogged ears likely requires a different approach.
- acQua MD
If you aren’t willing to take a gamble on old wives’ tales, clinically proven products are often the only surefire way to safely dislodge water trapped in the outer ear canal. One such device, acQua MD, uses low- or high-setting vibrations to gently shake moisture out of the ear. Removal is quick, allowing users to return to comfort and prevent longer-term infections such as swimmer’s ear. The tool’s wireless, battery-operated design also makes it portable, so water can be removed from the ears on-demand. Investing in a reliable, doctor-recommended removal device can be especially ideal for frequent swimmers and aquatic athletes, but is still useful on an everyday basis in case water makes its way into the ears during a bath or shower. Removable, reusable, and washable ear nibs allow for easy and hygienic sharing between family members and teammates of all ages and ear sizes.
Blowdryers can also get water out of your ears. To expedite the evaporation process and dry up excess fluid, pull your earlobe downward for easy access, set your blowdryer to its lowest heat and power settings, then hold it six inches to one foot away from your ear and briefly allow the air to blow at the ear passage. The best way to do this is in small, five- to ten-second increments. Take care not to burn your ear, and stop use and switch to a more mild method if any discomfort develops.
- Rubbing alcohol and vinegar
The vinegar in this DIY eardrop mixture prevents bacteria from building up in the compromised ear passage, while the rubbing alcohol can help dry up moisture.
Simply combine one teaspoon of vinegar with one teaspoon of rubbing alcohol, then use a dropper to place up to three drops into the ear. Gently rub your ear to massage the mixture into the ear passage, sit for 30 seconds, then tilt your head and allow the liquid to drip freely.
- Hot compress
Because body heat tends to encourage increased blood flow to high-temperature areas, a warm compress may coax the Eustachian tube open, thereby releasing the trapped contents. This method is best for a very small amount of water that is already close to breaking the surface — it is not, of course, a guaranteed miracle cure.
To give it a try, run a washcloth under a tap turned to hot (but not scorching). Once soaked, wring out the washcloth, test the temperature on your inner wrist, and apply to your tilted ear if comfortable. Lie on the affected side with the washcloth cradling the ear, or simply apply the heated washcloth while tilting the affected ear downward. Hold for 30 seconds or until the washcloth has cooled, then repeat 4 to 5 times (or as needed).
Steam is often used during spa facial treatments to open pores, and during spells of illness to clear nasal and sinus congestion — and these same clarifying capabilities also apply here. As with a hot compress, steam can help to open the Eustachian tube when continuously inhaled. It also has the power to soften ear wax, which can free up space for water to escape.
Simply boil a pot or kettle of water, pour the steaming water into a non-reactive bowl, and lean over the bowl with a towel over your head to contain the steam. Slowly inhale for up to 10 minutes (depending on how long you can comfortably handle it), then tilt the affected ear downward to release the trapped water.
Add a drop of relaxing essential oil such as lavender or or ylang ylang to transform this treatment into a DIY spa-level experience.
- Ear drops
Over-the-counter ear drops are formulated to aid in the drying process. They work in much of the same way as rubbing alcohol drops, but are premixed and available for purchase at most drugstores. If over-the-counter ear drops are being used to treat excess water in a child’s ear, it’s best for a parent or trusted guardian to administer the drops. Follow instructions on the product box to ensure safe and effective use.
- Garlic and Olive oil
Allicin, the primary compound found in garlic, is known to carry antimicrobial powers. When raw, crushed garlic is mixed into slightly warmed olive oil, the two may help with saturated ears. The garlic works to prevent infection, while the olive oil can soften wax and prime the ear passage to release moisture.
In order to use this method to get water out of your ears, crush one or two garlic cloves in a bowl and press to extract as much juice as possible. In a separate dish, warm a shallow pour of olive oil so it is just above room temperature. Add the crushed garlic to the oil, stir to release the liquid from the garlic, and allow the mixture to soak for a few minutes. Remove any garlic chunks (or use an ear dropper, taking care to avoid any solid pieces) and apply two to three liquid oil drops to the affected ear. Wait a few minutes, then tilt head to remove oil and water. If necessary, follow up with the blowdryer method to dry any leftover moisture.
In especially mild cases, yawning may be enough to release a small amount of water trapped at a shallow point in the ear. As you make a yawning motion with your jaw, pull your earlobe downward to further open the ear passage. Repeat as desired.
- Valsalva maneuver
The Valsalva maneuver is the official term for the act of exhaling while plugging your nose and closing your mouth. When used correctly, it can help equalize ear pressure and open the Eustachian tube, which may free up trapped water.
To perform this technique, start by taking a deep breath (as if preparing to dunk your head underwater). Then close your mouth, pinch your nostrils together, and gently try to blow air out of your nose while keeping it plugged. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly if you hear a gentle popping sound in the ears.
Important to note: Always blow gently if trying this method, as exhaling with too much force can injure the eardrum.
- Hydrogen peroxide
If you don’t already have a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in your first aid cabinet, it can be found in its diluted, ready-to-use form at major drugstores. Just as its effervescence makes the stuff effective for disinfecting certain minor wounds, it can also make it a reliable tool for lifting water from the ears.
Place a few drops of hydrogen peroxide into the affected ear. Allow the fluid to set for one to two minutes, then tilt the ear downward toward the shoulder to release. You may want to remain in this position or lie on your side for several minutes to ensure the peroxide (and hopefully the trapped water) exits the ear.
- Gentle suction
No, this does not mean using a vacuum to suck the water out of your ear! Instead, you can try using your hands to create a gentle vacuum sensation around the affected ear, which may help dislodge a small amount of water.
Tilt the affected ear downward, then press your slightly cupped palm against the ear to create a seal. Next, gently pump your palm back and and forth against the ear as needed. Again, this typically works best for mild cases — if the pumping motion doesn’t seem to be doing the trick after a few tries, move onto another remedy rather than bombarding your ear.
- Chew gum
This trick is an alternative to yawning, and it works in the same way. Continuous jaw motion, along with the light force of biting, may gently jiggle the ear passage and help release water in the most mild cases.
- Lie down on your ear
Use this method as a follow-up to any of the above tips to increase the likelihood of trapped water escaping, or try it as a first resort. Allow ample time for gravity to work its magic. Place a small towel over a pillow and lie down on the affected ear for as long as possible to allow the water to trickle out. You might even try sleeping on your side through the night (if you’re not an active sleeper, of course). Best of luck!
Featured photo source: Pixabay.com