How to Get Water Out of Your Ears

Swimming instructor with kids
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Sometimes after you've been swimming, diving, or have recently taken a bath, you might feel like there's still water in your ears. This may affect one or both ears and may decrease your hearing, make your ears feel like they need to pop, or otherwise just feel annoying.

Leaving excess water in the outer ear canal can increase your chances of developing an infection called swimmer's ear.

Swimmer's ear occurs when moisture allows bacteria inside the outer ear canal to grow. It can be prevented by keeping your ears dry. Some people are more prone to developing swimmer's ear than others. If you've had this infection in the past, you should be extra cautious about keeping your ear canal clean and dry.

You can prevent getting water in your ears in the first place by wearing earplugs (available over the counter at most drug stores) while bathing or swimming.

How to Get Water Out of Your Ears

Try these techniques for getting water out of your ears after swimming or bathing:

  • Tilt your head down or lay on your side so that gravity allows the water to run out. You might wish to place a folded towel under your head and lay down on a pillow. It may also be helpful to gently pull your ear lobe down to straighten the ear canal out and make it easier for the water to run out. You can also try shaking your head from side to side.
  • Use a hairdryer on a low (cool) setting to gently dry your ears. Be careful not to hold the dryer too close to the ear to avoid burns. It may be helpful to tug on your ear lobe (pulling it down toward your shoulder) or gently move it from side to side while using the blow dryer.

Ear Drops

If the above methods don't work and you don't have a condition that has impaired your eardrum (see below), you can try ear drops.

Rubbing alcohol and vinegar: Use one part rubbing alcohol and one part vinegar. Lay on your side while another person uses a dropper to put three to four drops of the solution in your ear. Lay there for another 30 seconds, then tilt your head to allow all the fluid to run out of your ear.

Hydrogen peroxide: Use three to four drops of hydrogen peroxide. Leave it in your ear for one to two minutes before tilting your head to allow the fluid to run out.

Over-the-counter ear drops: If you choose an over-the-counter ear drop, make sure you follow the directions on the package. The ear drops should be used at room temperature. If they are too cold, you might get dizzy or feel strange when you put them in your ear.

What Not to Do When There's Water in Your Ears

Never stick anything into your ears to try to get the water out, including cotton swabs. You could accidentally push the water further into your ear, introduce bacteria, or even damage the ear canal or eardrum.

Do not put any kind of drops in your ear if you have had recent ear surgery, have had surgically placed ventilation tubes, or could have a ruptured eardrum.

When to Call Your Doctor

Even if you are unable to get the water out of your ears with one of the methods listed above, your ears will usually clear it out on their own within a day or two.

You should call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Ear pain
  • Redness, itchiness, or flaking skin in the ear canal
  • Sudden or persistent hearing loss
  • Drainage from the ear that is bloody, yellow, green, milky, or foul-smelling
  • Any other symptoms that seem unusual or do not go away

It should also be noted that fluid can be trapped behind the eardrum. This is not the same as getting water in the outer ear canal after going swimming or taking a bath, though both conditions can cause similar symptoms. Fluid in the middle ear is much more common in small children than in adults, although it can occur in all age groups.

If you have fluid behind the eardrum, you won't be able to get rid of it with one of the methods listed in this article. Your doctor may choose to observe you and see if the fluid goes away on its own (usually over a period of months), or you may need the surgical placement of ventilation tubes.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Updated August 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ear infections. Updated May 4, 2016.