How to Get Water Out of Your Ears

A fix for swimmer's ear that doesn't involve shaking your head.

young woman ear close upJr images/Shutterstock

How does water get in your ears?

Do you ever feel like you have half the Pacific trapped inside your ear after a day in the pool? This can happen, especially after performing a cannonball or perhaps getting hit by a rogue wave. While it’s not necessarily a hidden danger of visiting the pool like these, getting water in your ear can be a pain, literally, and can cause an infection. But the answer to how to get water out of your ear is not hopping around and shaking your head like a rhythmically challenged dancer.

According to Dr. Farhad Chowdhury, a physician at ENT & Allergy Associates in Clark, New Jersey, the water stuck inside your ear is actually caught outside the eardrum. Often, it mixes with ear wax and gets stuck behind it, leaving you with the feeling your ear is clogged. And if it’s in there too long, it can cause more than just discomfort. “The problem with having a mixture of wax and water in your ear is it’s a soup for bacteria and infection,” Chowdhury says. Luckily, you can figure out how to get water out of your ear in a few easy steps.

How to get water out of your ear

  • Wiggle it out! Chowdhury recommends leaning over to the side and gently tugging on your ear. “By wiggling your ear, you’re manipulating the ear canal and that helps water work itself out,” he says.
  • The cupping method: You can use your hand to create a vacuum to help the water fall out of your ear, Chowdhury says. Tilt your head sideways and cup your palm over your ear. Then flatten and cup your palm again to create a suction which should help the water get out.
  • A warm compress: according to Chowdhury, the heat from the compress will help melt some of the wax blocking the water. The wax will loosen up and fall out of the ear, freeing up the water stuck behind it.
  • A blow dryer: Dr. Ana Kim, an otolaryngologist at ColumbiaDoctors and Associate Professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, says holding a blow dryer at arm’s length, set it on the lowest heat and aim it at your ear while shaking your head back and forth.
  • A homemade concoction:If you feel that there is a lot of water and that it could be contaminated water, you may want to mix white vinegar and alcohol.” She suggests using a sterile eye dropper to apply three to five drops in your ear.
  • Try swimmer’s ear drops. These drops made up of mostly alcohol, help evaporate the water in your ear. However, Chowdhury cautions against using these if your ear has any sort of injury, like if you were hit by a wave or water balloon. If you have an injury, the alcohol can further hurt and even burn the ear.
  • See a doctor. Most of the time, water will come out of the ear on its own, Chowdhury says. But if it’s there for more than 24 hours, it may be a good idea to see an ENT to help you.

Do not put anything inside your ear

Ear drops aside, Chowdhury said he’s seen people try to use their fingers, cotton swabs, and even bobby pins to try to get water out of their ears. “Your ear naturally exfoliates,” he says. “You sticking anything inside that hole is going against the natural tendency of the ear to clean itself.” If you really feel you need to clean your ears, here’s the proper way to do so.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Erin Kayata
Erin Kayata joined Reader’s Digest as an assistant staff writer in March 2019, coming from the Stamford Advocate where she covered education. Prior to this, she was part of a two-year Hearst fellowship program where she covered crime and education in suburban Connecticut. She graduated from Emerson College and spent part of her undergraduate career writing for the Boston Globe. When she’s not writing articles about useful facts and pop culture, you can find Erin enjoying the local theater scene and working toward her goal of reading 50 books a year.