Signs and symptoms of water in the inner ear

Written by kyle anderson
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Signs and symptoms of water in the inner ear
Water in the inner ear is a condition that requires medical treatment. (phasinphoto/iStock/Getty Images)

Water in the inner ear is more of a health concern than you may realise. If you're an active swimmer, water may enter your ear and drain out just as easily. But when water penetrates the inner ear, including the cochlea and the vestibular system, it can become trapped and increase the chances of infection, which can permanently damage hearing or balance. The symptoms of water in the inner ear are easily recognisable, and an ear-nose-and-throat specialist can confirm the diagnosis and offer treatment options.

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Pain

Water in the inner ear will usually hurt. The pain will increase over the course of a couple days, and it will usually stay in just one ear. Many other factors can cause ear pain, including impacted wax and trauma from air pressure. Pain in the inner ear increases significantly when you touch or pull on the ear.

Itching

Most ear itching results from skin conditions you can see, such as eczema, psoriasis or an allergic reaction. If you see no change on the skin, though, the cause is internal, such as earwax, fluid or water in the inner ear.

Reduced hearing

This symptom is comparatively rare, but it happens sometimes. If you quickly lose partial hearing in one ear, something is most likely obstructing the ear canal -- either wax, a foreign body or water.

Ringing in the ear

Water often creates a lingering sound of ringing in the inner ear. Long-term chronic ringing -- called tinnitus -- indicates other causes, such as neurological issues, wax build-up, a foreign body in the ear or age-related issues, but new acute ringing could result from water in the inner ear.

Swelling

Most ear swelling results from injury, such as a sudden blow. If both ears start swelling, that suggests an allergic reaction, particularly to a metal, such as nickel or chromium. Water in the inner ear, though, causes inflammation in a single ear. The ear itself will appear red. If the swelling is severe, it may squeeze the ear canal shut, further reducing your hearing.

Fever

Your temperature will occasionally rise when there's water in the inner ear. This symptom is rare, however.

Discharge

If there's water in the inner ear, fluid will often drain out. The nature of the fluid can vary considerably depending on whether infection has taken root. The discharge may be white, yellow or clear. The discharge may also contain blood and smell foul.

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