You just finished a swim or shower. Do your ears ever feel clogged? Are sounds muffled? You may have water in your ears.
You can even get sweat trapped in your ears from wearing earbuds. If you don’t take care of it soon, you can end up with an infection known as otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear. When water sits in your ear canal, bacteria that live there all the time can multiply and cause an infection.
But you have to get the water out safely. Do it wrong, and you might boost your odds of swimmer’s ear. If you have a ruptured eardrum or tubes in your ears, you have to be extra careful about how you dry your ears.
Dos for Getting Water Out of Your Ears
If you have water in your ears, take these steps to get it out safely.
- Dry your outer ear with a soft towel or cloth. Don’t stick the cloth into the canal.
- Tip your head to one side to help water drain. Gently pull on your earlobe. This will straighten your ear canal and help the water flow.
- Turn your blow dryer on the lowest setting and blow it toward your ear. Hold it at least a foot away.
- Try over-the-counter drying drops.
- To make drying drops at home, mix 1 part white vinegar to 1 part rubbing alcohol. Pour 1 teaspoon of the solution into each ear; tilt your head and let it drain out.
Don’ts for Getting Water Out of Your Ears
Using the wrong methods for getting water out of your ears can scratch your ear canal or impact earwax in the canal. Don’t use these methods for drying out your ears, or you will be more -- not less -- likely to get an infection.
- Avoid cotton swabs. They can pack earwax and dirt down in your ear canal, remove the wax that protects your ear, or irritate the thin skin of the ear canal.
- Don’t stick your finger or fingernails in your ears. You can scratch the delicate skin of the ear canal.
- Don’t use hydrogen peroxide or drying drops if you or your child has ear tubes or if you have a ruptured eardrum.
How to Spot an Infection
Look out for these symptoms of swimmer’s ear -- just in case the drying tips didn’t work:
- Itching in your ear canal
- Redness inside your ear
- Discomfort or pain that gets worse when you pull on your outer ear or push on the little bump in front of your ear
- Clear, odorless fluid that drains from your ear canal
How to Keep Water Out
Sometimes the best offense is a good defense. To stop moisture from building up in your ears to begin with, try these tips.
- Remove earbuds if you’re sweaty.
- Coat a cotton ball with petroleum jelly and slip it into your outer ears during a bath.
- Block your ears with cotton balls when you use hair spray or hair dye.
- Use earplugs and a swim cap when you go into the water.
- Have your doctor remove earwax if you think you have a problem with wax buildup. Yes, it protects your ears, but too much can trap water in the canal. Always check with your doctor. Never try to get it out yourself.
- Use hydrogen peroxide with your doctor’s approval. If you have wax buildup, he may suggest you clean your ears with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. But you can’t do this if you have tubes in your ears. Put about half of an ear dropper full in your ear. Let it bubble up. Then turn your head to the side, gently pull on the top of your ear, and let it drain.