Ever get water in your ears while enjoying a warm shower or relaxing swim? Kind of annoying, right? But we often assume that since it is a cleansing agent, it must be OK to get a little water in our ears. But if large quantities of liquid enter the ear and stay there for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to inflammation and possibly a bacterial infection.
Ever get water in your ears while enjoying a warm shower or relaxing swim? It can enter through the ear canal and the middle ear, causing a “blocked” feeling. Kind of annoying, right? But we often assume that since it is a cleansing agent, it must be OK to get a little water in our ears. And it is – as long as it finds a way out. But if large quantities of liquid enter the ear and stay there for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to inflammation and possibly a bacterial infection.1
What Happens When Water Gets Into The Ears?
Any water that enters the ears during a shower or swim will usually not cause issues, unless an excess amount gets in and stays there for more than two days. This will cause sounds to be muffled, a warning sign that too much water has entered the ear. If the water doesn’t find its way out, it can lead to bacterial growth in the ear canal.2
Children and adults who are prone to sinusitis and other ear and nose issues must be especially mindful of getting too much water in their ears. When water sits in the ear, the ear canal (the passage to the ear drum) will become red and swollen. This is known as swimmer’s ear and can be quite painful. Excess water in the ears can also lead to inflammation, outer and middle ear infections, headaches, and tinnitus (ringing sounds). It can even damage or puncture your eardrums.
It’s often the microflora in the water that can cause bacterial infections in the ear. Microflora is usually present in untreated, stagnant water. Swimming pools that are regularly chlorinated and filtered do not usually contain microflora. In general, natural bodies of water that are flowing and moving are usually safer than stagnant ponds and lakes.3
Too much water entering the ear and staying there for more than 2–3 days can lead to issues of inflammation and infection.
Water sitting in the ears for too long can lead to two types of infections. Otitis Externa involves inflammation in the ear canal which does not reach the eardrum.4 This can be treated with simple anti-inflammatory medications.
Otitis Media is a more serious infection of the middle ear that can cause extreme pain and build-up of fluid behind the eardrum. This necessitates treatment with a course of antibiotics.5 In some cases, it may be necessary to do a bacterial culture to determine the exact antibiotic to be given. Severe infections accompanied by swelling of the ear canal and infectious discharge may need to be treated with IV antibiotics.6
What To Do When Water Gets In Your Ears
If water gets into your ear, it’s important you try to get it out by tilting your head or lying on your side with the affected ear facing down. Yawning or chewing gum can help. You can also use steam or blow-dry the ear on minimum heat. Do not try to get water out with ear buds, or use ear drops that have not been prescribed by a doctor. If you feel the water has not gotten out, it’s best to consult a doctor, especially if your hearing continues to be muffled and you discover pus in the ear or experience pain.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Lowry, Philip W., William R Jarvis, Arnold D Oberle, Lee A. Bland, Ronald Silberman, Joseph A. Bocchini Jr, Hazel D. Dean, Jana M. Swenson, and Richard J. Wallace Jr. “Mycobacterium chelonae causing otitis media in an ear-nose-and-throat practice.” New England Journal of Medicine 319, no. 15 (1988): 978-982.|
|2.||↑||Wright, Donald N., and John M. Alexander. “Effect of water on the bacterial flora of swimmers’ ears.” Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery 99, no. 1 (1974): 15.|
|3.||↑||Swimmer’s Ear Victoria State Government – Better Health Channel.|
|4, 6.||↑||Sander, Robert. “Otitis externa: a practical guide to treatment and prevention.” American family physician 63, no. 5 (2001): 927-36.|
|5.||↑||Middle ear infection(otitis media), National Health Services UK.|