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Stop shaking your head to get the water out of your ears, you could suffer brain damage.

Joint-research by Cornell University and Virginia Tech warns about this practice.

Stop shaking your head to get the water out of your ears.
Stop shaking your head to get the water out of your ears.

The way we try to get water trapped in our ears can cause problems in young children's brains. 

Shaking your head to try to remove the fluid confined in the ear canal is dangerous because of the magnitude of the variation in speed in a short time.

This was determined in a research study by Anuj Baskota, Seungho Kim and Sunghwan Jung of Cornell University and Virginia Tech.

"Our research focuses primarily on the acceleration required to get water out of the ear," Baskota wrote at the American Physical Society recently.

3D ears

To do this, they tested various sizes of 3D printed glass tubes and ear canals and applied different accelerations.

They wanted to determine the ideal combination for removing water from a space with ear-like characteristics.

Baskota revealed that "the critical acceleration obtained was in the range of 10 times the force of gravity for children's ear sizes, which could cause damage to the brain.

In the case of adults, the variation in speed was smaller because their ears are larger in diameter.

What to do

"From our experiments and theoretical model, we discovered that the surface tension of the fluid is one of the crucial factors that promote water clogging in the ear canals," Baskota said.

Based on this important finding, the researchers recommended substituting accelerated head movement with another more effective, safe method.

Putting a few drops of a liquid with a lower surface tension than water, such as alcohol or vinegar, would reduce the force of the surface tension by allowing the water to flow," Anuj Baskota said.

72nd Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics

Saturday–Tuesday, November 23–26, 2019; Seattle, washington, Session A31: Biological Fluid Dynamics: General I. 3:00 PM–4:31 PM, saturday, November 23, 2019, Room: 613.

Chair: Jin Liu, Washington State University, abstract: A31.00007 : Acceleration-induced water ejection in the human ear canal.


  1. Anuj Baskota, (Cornell University).
  2. Seungho Kim, (Cornell University).
  3. Hosung Kang, (Virginia Tech).
  4. Sunghwan Jung, (Cornell University).

Water entering the ear canal is a common problem during swimming, showering, or other water sports. Trapped water can cause an infection in the ear as well as damage to the ear canal. 

A common strategy for emptying the water in the ear canal is to shake the head, where the force created by the shaking of the head helps push the water out. Closed hydrophobic glass tubes with a variable end diameter were used as a simplified model of the ear canal. The tube is then dropped onto a spring to mimic the agitation strategy. 

The results revealed that the critical acceleration to remove water from the ear canal depends largely on the volume and position of the liquid trapped within the tube. We found that critical acceleration is in the order of 10 g, which can cause serious damage to the human brain. 

Critical acceleration tends to be much higher in smaller tubes, indicating that children may be more laborious shaking heads to remove water due to their small ear canal size compared to adults.