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Can Prolonged Earplug Use Cause Damage to Ears?

Will Sleeping With Earplugs Damage My Ears?

You can't expect to get your beauty sleep when you're kept awake or woken up by loud noises. Whether your neighbors love to party till 3 a.m., your bedmate's snoring feels like a motorboat is driving over your head, or the chirping birds drive you crazy in the morning, you might feel like you found the perfect solution — wearing foam earplugs to bed. Ahh, you can finally get some peace and quiet, but wait. Can wearing earplugs for eight hours straight be damaging to your ears? And what about long-term use?

Earplugs are meant to block out noises, but will not completely prevent you from hearing loud sounds such as a smoke detector or beeping alarm clock. So in that respect, it is safe to wear earplugs to bed. As far as the health of your ear goes, studies show that long-term use of foam earplugs can cause earwax to build up or become impacted. Earplugs block the outward flow of earwax that our bodies naturally produce in order to self-clean the ears. Foam plugs are often pushed in too far, which can also pack the wax deep inside your ear canal, and possibly against the eardrum. You'll end up with constant ringing of the ears (tinnitus), pain, or hearing loss. What's more — not to gross you out — bacteria thrive on warm, moist, foam earplugs, and since they can't be thoroughly cleaned, people often end up with ear infections.

Using store-bought foam earplugs that don't fit your ear perfectly can also irritate the skin, another cause of infection, so if you only use them every so often, it's best to invest in a custom-molded pair. These will fit your ears like a glove, and reduce the risk of being pushed in too far. They're also easier to keep clean, so your risk of infection is greatly reduced.

If you can't bear to sleep without earplugs, and earmuffs or a pillow over your head don't do the job, instead of dealing with the risk of impacted earwax, try using a sound machine on your nightstand to drone out the noises that keep you awake.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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Join The Conversation
Jan1988 Jan1988 2 years
quote: "le romantique says: Very, very bad for you. This is coming from an audio engineer." A audio engineer is no expert on the human ear but on sound equipment for crying out loud. Also you say it's 'very very bad' but you don't elaborate you simply drop the statement and move on. You see 'le romantique' that's called being a "troll". Unless you are an Otolaryngologist you cannot give us blanket statements like "its very very bad for you" sorry that's idiotic. What you can do is give us your personal experience like the other people on here have done. But you did not do that either! Please spare us from the scare mongering. I've used earplugs to sleep and have found that unless there is a wax buildup they are not hurtful in the least. I do not issue that as a broad statement to cover all users of earplugs- just my experience
Lisa2662913 Lisa2662913 3 years
I think I may have the "Impact" problem...I have been wearing earplugs for about 5 years I just can't sleep without them anymore but I noticed this week that I have the sensation of "ringing" in my ears without the sound of it...it almost feels like airplane pressure I feel like sound has dulled...I am really worried. Should I see a normal physician first? Please help! Thanks
shannon_xo shannon_xo 5 years
I also wear ear plugs to sleep and have been for a couple of years now...never had a problem :) but i also do change them regularly.
Allytta Allytta 5 years
i'm sleeping with ear plugs as well. i have very narrow ear canal, which has been confirmed by my ear doctor and first week was very painful, as the smallest plugs wouldn't fit. but now i noticed that the ear canal has strecthed and i can get earplugs in easily.
le-romantique le-romantique 5 years
Very, very bad for you. This is coming from an audio engineer.
GirlOverboard GirlOverboard 5 years
Have you considered trying to sleep to white noise? While noise that fluctuates like that from radio, TV or even a sleepytime playlist can actually negatively effect your sleep, steady white noise can help block out sounds that would normally wake you up. For years, my dad just used the white noise from in-between radio stations and eventually bought an actual white noise maker so he can fall asleep to the SHHHHHH and not be woken up by other noises around or outside the house. The only unfortunate thing is that it means that his alarm clock has to be REALLY LOUD. However, it might be worth trying so that your ears are less likely to pick up on the chirp-chirpity of your noisy avian neighbors.
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