What to do if you get water in your ears

Author thumbnail Charlotte Jones  |  Published 28 June 2023  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 3 mins read

A swimming pool with handles leading down to it.

Usually, getting a bit of water in your ears isn’t the end of the world. However, if the water gets trapped, this can lead to an ear infection. Read our guide on water in the ear below to find out how to prevent it, and how to deal with it if it happens.

Fresh water swimmer in wetsuit, goggles and swimming cap.

What are the dangers of water in the ear?

Love to swim, surf or sail? Well you might do well to remember that water carries certain bacteria that can cause ear infection. Particularly if you have narrow ear canals, or a build-up of wax, water may become trapped in your ears. This can cause an ear infection that is commonly known as “swimmer’s ear” or otitis externa. Ear infection symptoms can be painful, so you’ll want to avoid them where possible – find out how below …

How do I know if I have water in my ear?

The symptoms of trapped water in the ear are quite distinctive and can be very uncomfortable. 

Look out for:

  • Redness on the outer ear
  • Itchiness
  • Discharge coming from the ear
  • Pain (can be severe) or pressure in the ear
  • Temporary loss of hearing or muffled sounds
  • Nausea
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)

When left untreated:

  • High temperature
  • Swelling around the ear and neck

The Dos and Don’ts for getting water out of your ear

The most important thing here is not to stick anything in your ear to try to get the water out! Cotton buds, fingers, hairpins … none of these should go anywhere near your delicate inner ear canal. 

Sticking things in your ears can actually worsen the problem. Instead, you can:

  • Dry the outside of your ears thoroughly with a towel after swimming or bathing
  • Lean your head to one side to coax any water out
  • Chew and move your jaw to stimulate the ear canal
  • Gently tug on your outer ear to open the canal and let water out

If these methods aren’t working, and you think you are experiencing an inner ear infection or middle ear infection, visit your GP or book an appointment with your audiologist.

ACS swimmers ear plugs.

How to prevent getting water in your ears

The best way to prevent swimmers or surfers ear is to get a pair of specialised ear plugs. These custom-made ear plugs will be moulded to your ears and create a seal – preventing any water from getting in. 

Swimmers ear plugs are fantastic option for any water sports enthusiasts or athletes. Or even if you’re a regular at the beach, and want to make sure your ears are fully protected. Our expert audiologists are available to discuss the best option for you when you book your next appointment.

When to seek help

If your symptoms last longer than three days, or you’re experiencing severe pain, fever, or swelling you should seek immediate care from your GP or audiologist. If left untreated, an ear infection can worsen and in rare cases cause permanent hearing damage. However, when seen to by a professional, ear infection treatment should work within 7-10 days

You can book an appointment to see one of our expert audiologists online or over the phone on 0800 52 00 546. Find your nearest The Hearing Care Partnership practice