Why Does It Feel Like There’s Water in Your Ear?

If you notice something that feels like water in ear, it could be a number of things in one of many places in your ear canal. The anatomy of the ear canal consists of your middle ear that is filled with air, the Eustachian tube that helps drain the ears down the back of your throat, and your tympanic membrane or ear drum that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. This usually helps prevent water from getting into your middle ear. However, infections or allergies can cause fluid build-up in the ears. This article will help you understand some of the different causes.

It Feels Like Water in Ear, Why?

You may have one of many different issues that can affect either your outer ear or your middle ear. Here are some of the possible causes:

1.       Actual Water in Your Ear/Swimmer's Ear

This is the most common cause of the sensation of water in your ear. If you swim or immerse your head in water, it can become trapped inside your ear canal. This is known as “swimmer’s ear” and needs to be dried out quickly or it can lead to an ear infection. Water usually collects in the outer ear canal and is kept outside of the middle ear by the tympanic membrane.

2.       Earwax Buildup

If it feels like water in ear for more than a week or so, you most likely have a build-up of earwax in your outer ear canal. Earwax causes a blockage in your ear canal that can make sounds muffled. You may feel like you have water in your ear, especially if the wax is close to your tympanic membrane or eardrum.

3.       Pressure Caused By Blockage and Infection

If your Eustachian tube is blocked, it’ll lead to Eustachian tube dysfunction. You may hear a muffled sound and feel like your ears are plugged. This can feel like water in the ear, but way deep inside. This usually shows up after you have had an upper respiratory infection that caused a lot of mucous near the ears. The swelling and inflammation from the infection can trap that mucous inside, creating pressure.

4.       Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)

A middle ear infection is caused by a buildup of fluid inside the ear either due to a cold, allergies or water that seeped in behind the eardrum. This fluid sits and harbors bacteria that grows and causes an infection. Symptoms include feeling of fullness or feels like water in the ear, ear pain, headache, jaw pain, and possibly fever. Some people even feel dizziness and nausea. If the pain worsens over a few days, you need to see your doctor for evaluation and treatment. Also see your doctor if you have redness or swelling around the external ear canal.

Feels Like Water in Ear: What to Do

There are a few things you can do before you run to your doctor. Of course, if you have pain you should contact your doctor as soon as possible. Here are a few things for ear stuffiness:

1.     Watch and Wait

Sometimes a minor ear infection may clear up by itself. If you aren’t feeling pain or having leakage from your ear, just watch and wait a few days to see if it goes away. If you do get bloody drainage or thick discharge with pain, give your doctor a call. Drainage and pain may need treatment with antibiotics.

If you truly have water in your ear, it may drain by itself in a few days. Give it about five days and if it still feels like water in the ear, give your doctor a call.

2.     Use Heat Packs

Take a sock and fill it with rice and tie on top. Place in the microwave for 30 seconds to one minute. Make sure it isn’t too hot before you place it over your ear to increase comfort. You can also use a washcloth with very warm water or a heating pad for 20 minutes at a time.

3.     Try Some Ear Drops

If you don’t have any pain or drainage from your ear, try some ear drops over-the-counter from your local pharmacy. You can talk to your pharmacist for a recommendation. Do not use ear drops if you have drainage from your ear with or without pain.

4.     Pop Your Ear

You can use the “Valsalva maneuver” to try and gently pop your ear to relieve pressure. Do this by holding your nose with your mouth closed, while trying to blow air into your closed mouth. This can equalize the pressure in your ears and move the fluid around. Try placing a hot pack on your ear after doing this.

5.     Use an Antihistamine

If allergies are causing a buildup of mucous that feels like water in ear, try using an over-the-counter antihistamine to stop allergic reactions. Steroid nasal sprays can also help this.

6.     Neti-Pots Work Great

A saline irrigation system like a “neti-pot” can help flush out the sinuses and Eustachian tubes. Always use warm water mixed with salt to prevent burning. Remember to use very gentle pressure and never force water into the sinuses. Warm water can help break up any mucous so it can drain.

7.     What the Doctor Will Do

If you can’t get things under control at home and need to call the doctor, they will most likely treat you for an ear infection first and then move on to the following if you are still having discomfort:

  • Tubes in the ear to equalize the pressure
  • Opening the eardrum to allow fluid to drain

Experiences of Others

Many people experience what feels like water in ear. Here are some firsthand accounts:

“I had an inner/middle ear infection known as “mastoiditis” with an external ear infection last year. The feeling of blockage was irritating at best and the doctor told me my middle ear was full of fluid. They were able to do a test called a tympanometry that showed the fluid buildup. After treatment with antibiotics and steroids, the swelling and fluid finally went away after a few months.”         Jenny

“I had been swimming a lot over the summer and got water in my ears. Someone recommended placing a few drops of alcohol into my ear canal. Make a mix of ½ alcohol and ½ peroxide and use a dropper to place a little in your ear canal. This helps to dry the water out and take away the stuffy feeling after swimming.”           Robert

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