Having hearing problems after participating in a water-based activity such as scuba diving, swimming, and snorkeling is more common than you think. Our ears aren’t designed to be submerged underwater for extended lengths of time, and snorkeling is guilty of making you do that. If you can’t hear after snorkeling, then you may have some kind of ear blockage that you need to clear up.
While our ears are typically pretty good at clearing out things like wax and water on their own, sometimes they need a little help. If you aren’t able to hear as clearly as you used to after spending some time in the water, then that’s perfectly normal. There are many reasons why this could happen, some from just generally being in the water, and some are snorkeling specific. If you feel pain in your ears or your hearing loss is persistent, then seek medical attention.
In this article, we’ll discuss what might be blocking your ears after snorkeling and how to deal with it so that you are back to form. Let’s unclog those ears.
How to prevent clogged ears while snorkeling
The easy answer is: don’t let water get in them in the first place! You can do this in a variety of ways, such as by wearing a swim cap, swimming earplugs, or using vented diving earplugs if you want to duck dive.
These solutions are cheap and readily available. A note on swimming earplugs – use them only if you plan on staying at the surface. If you plan on duck diving, the earplugs will prevent you from properly equalizing your ears and can result in middle ear barotrauma.
If you plan on duck diving, you need to wear vented scuba diving earplugs. These earplugs will prevent water from entering your ears, yet there is a small opening that allows air to escape so that you can still equalize.
Another possible cause of hearing loss while snorkeling is if you duck dive without equalizing. You only need to dive a couple of feet to feel the pressure differential in your middle ear versus the water pressure surrounding you.
Prior to equalizing, you may experience a squeeze in your ears as well as temporary loss of hearing; everything will sound muffled, as if your ears are clogged. This is a clear sign you need to equalize.
Equalizing is easy: just pinch your nose through the snorkel mask and gently try to exhale through your nose. You should hear a “pop” sound and your ears will clear up immediately. The adage is to equalize early and often. You should equalize your ears for each 1-2 ft of depth you reach during your descent.
If you’re having trouble equalizing, then read this article for some more equalization methods you can try out.
How to get rid of blocked ears after snorkeling
If you cannot hear clearly after snorkeling, it may seem scary especially if you’re just starting out. You may be wondering if your ears were permanently damaged and whether you are partially deaf now or not. Thankfully, the answer is no, and having blocked ears after spending time in the water is incredibly common. Here are some tips to get rid of this stubborn water.
Take advantage of gravity
The easiest, product-free method to get rid of water in your ears after snorkeling is to simply tilt your head so that the affected ear is facing toward the ground or lie sideways with a towel to absorb the water that will drain out.
Additionally, you can gently pull downwards on your earlobe to try to open up your ear canal even more to encourage the water to drain out. You can even try shaking your head or jumping with your head tilted so that the impact of your feet landing on the floor can travel up your body and dislodge the stuck water.
Don’t be alarmed, the vacuum we refer to is not an electric one. You can create a vacuum sensation using only your hands. This is a bit tricky but can be done with some practice.
To start, tilt your head such that the blocked ear is facing toward the ground. Might as well take advantage of gravity while we’re at it, right? Next, form a cup with your hand as if you were trying to carry water in that hand, but curl your fingers in even more than that.
Press your cupped hand/palm over the affected ear and try to form an airtight seal. You will need to press pretty hard to achieve this. When you’re ready, quickly straight out the cupped hand so that your hand is now flat against the side of your face. If you did it successfully, you should have felt a vacuum sensation in your ear. Keep repeating until the water has been vacuumed out.
Use a blow dryer
We are hesitant to recommend this method because there is a chance that you can burn yourself if you’re not careful. Assuming you are cautious, then this is a viable way to clear water that is stuck in your ear from snorkeling.
Get a hairdryer and set it at the lowest heat/power setting. Next, hold it at least a foot away from the affected ear. To be safe, start from further away than you need to and then try inching it closer if you feel it’s not that effective from that distance. This is to reduce the likelihood of burns. The aidryer may also get hotter the longer you use it, so be wary of that too.
The hot air from the blow dryer should reach your ear canal and increase the airflow to it. At the same time, use your free hand and gently pull down on your earlobe to open up the ear canal to let more air flow in.
Use ear drops
You can either purchase ear drops for swimmers or make your own DIY ear drops. We’ll show you how you can make your own drying ear drops.
To start, the ingredients you need are vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Mix a solution of containing equal parts of the two ingredients. Then put it in a dropper to conveniently transfer it to your ear.
Now, you can either try to put a few drops into your own ear or get someone to assist you. We recommend laying on your side to do it. Once the solution has been applied, let it sit for 30 seconds, then tilt your head in the other direction to drain it out.
Now, you might smell like a salad due to the vinegar, however the combination of vinegar and rubbing alcohol will simultaneously kill bacteria in your ear and dry it out. Thus, your ears will quickly get unblocked and be bacteria-free. A win-win, plus these ingredients are easy to obtain.
Dealing with earwax
Be honest – you’ve been using Q-tips to clean your ears, haven’t you? Q-tips are notorious for pushing earwax into your ear canal and eventually causing a blockage.
Earwax is naturally occurring and is beneficial to your body. It prevents ear infections by forming a protective layer that makes it difficult for bacteria to enter your ears. Typically, ear wax isn’t a problem unless it has been impacted by a Q-tip.
Without our interference, earwax should naturally come out of the ear, typically while we’re sleeping. However, if earwax has been pushed in by a Q-tip, it can decrease the space in the ear canal and trap water more easily. The combination of wax and water can prevent you from hearing properly after snorkeling.
Clearing out earwax
As we’ve mentioned already, earwax should clear out on its own. Hence, we cannot recommend sticking anything into your ears because it can make infections more likely.
Some people have perforated their eardrums because they decided to stick something into their ears and were too aggressive with how they were “cleaning”. You should not attempt to clear earwax out yourself.
If you have a history of using Q-tips and have caused a blockage that is affecting your hearing, then you need to get a doctor to clear it out for you.
There is a DIY solution to remove ear wax that does not involve sticking an object into your ears. You can try it out if you want, but your mileage with it may vary.
You need to get some olive oil and heat it up to around body temperature. You can do this by simply putting the olive oil in a container and running it under hot water. The heated up olive oil can lubricate your ear canals and “encourage” the wax to come out naturally.
Pour a teaspoon of the warm oil into your ear canal and let it settle for a minute. Then tilt the other way so that the oil can drain out. Do the same for the other ear. This can potentially clear your ears of any blockages.
Swimmer’s ear refers to when you have an ear infection. It can occur when water is left in your ear and the bacteria in it causes your ear to get infected.
The symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itchiness, mild pain, swelling and redness in the ear canal, and hearing loss. If you have swimmer’s ear, see a doctor immediately. If untreated, the pain will worsen and you can suffer permanent hearing loss and feel extremely ill.
To reduce the chances of getting swimmer’s ear, make sure you dry your ears each time after snorkeling. If you duck dive, equalize often so you don’t burst your eardrums. Any ear barotrauma you suffer can eventually become infected, and the best way to deal with it is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
How long can water stay in the ear for?
If you’re really on your game, you should remove the water from your ears as quickly as possible. This drastically decreases the chances of ear infection. However, even if no steps are taken to speed up the drying process, most of the water in your ears should evaporate on its own after 2-3 days. If water somehow manages to linger longer than this, then you may get swimmer’s ear.
To sum it up, the most likely reasons why you can’t hear after snorkeling are that you have water in your ears, you have not equalized it, or you have ear wax blockage. In extreme cases, you might have an ear infection resulting in hearing loss.
You can prevent water from even entering your ear by swearing a swim mold ear plug or vented diving earplugs. Vented earplugs are recommended because they allow you to equalize your ears which lets you safely duck dive if you wish. You can also wear a swim cap.
Earplugs are not needed as long as you know how to dry your ears out afterwards. After exiting the water, rinse your ears with fresh water if possible. Dry the outside with a towel. If an ear is blocked, tilt it towards the ground. Pull on your earlobe to open your ear canal even more. Open up your jaw or wiggle it to shake the water out.
You can also use swimming ear drops to help evaporate the water in your ears faster. These ear drops can also kill the bacteria in your ears to prevent an ear infection.
Resist the urge to stick anything in your ears such as a Q-tip. This can push earwax deep inside the ear canal and cause a blockage. If you’re not careful, you can also rupture your eardrum.
Earwax blockages can be safely cleared out by a doctor. Generally, you never need to worry about ear wax because they should clear out on their own, assuming you are not interfering in some way.
If you feel pain in your ears which you associate with your hearing loss, you may have an ear infection. Seek medical attention to get it treated.
Our ears are delicate and prone to infection, however with some care and maintenance, we can avoid most problems from getting water in our ears. Snorkeling is a common way for people to get blocked ears, but restoring your hearing can be as simple as tilting your head sideways and letting gravity do the work.