Is It Harmful To Sleep With Earplugs?

People can choose to sleep with earplugs for several reasons. Light sleepers who find it difficult to stay asleep with any sort of noise in the background rely on them, but they aren't alone. If you've ever slept next to someone who snores, you know how essential it can be to have a pair on hand to get some shut-eye. However, there has always been an ongoing debate as to whether or not sleeping with earplugs regularly causes any long-term harm.

These days, earplugs come in a wide variety of forms — silicone, moldable, foam, and more. Additionally, there are several different sizes, each designed to fit comfortably and snugly in our ear canals. The ultimate goal for most wearers is to limit the amount of sound they can hear while sleeping, but unfortunately, there are a few risks that come with using them nightly.

Perhaps the most well-known and frequently experienced risk of consistently wearing earplugs is ear wax buildup. If you wear them nightly, for example, you might be pushing wax back into your ear. Over time, this can result in temporary hearing loss due to the buildup, or tinnitus — the medical term for the sound of ringing in the ears. Depending on the severity of the buildup, you may be able to remove the wax yourself at home with wax-softening ear drops. However, your doctor can also eliminate excess earwax.

How bacteria can cause problems for earplug users

Earwax buildup isn't something anyone wants to experience, regardless of how simple the removal process may be. That being said, it also isn't the only potential side effect that comes with wearing earplugs regularly for sleep. Ear infections are not uncommon in people who consistently wear earplugs. This is because bacteria that live on the earplugs can enter into the ear canal. However, it can also thrive in earwax and create an infection. Some symptoms include tinnitus, hearing issues, itchiness, and dizziness. Antibiotic medications may be necessary to treat an infection that develops as a result of consistent earplug usage.

To reduce the chances of developing an infection from wearing earplugs, it's important to clean them regularly. Keep in mind that disposable earplugs — those made of silicone or putty — should not be cleaned or reused. If you have foam earplugs or another type made of a material that can be sanitized, begin by filling a bowl with warm water. Add soap or hydrogen peroxide to create a cleaning solution, and allow your earplugs to soak in it for a few minutes. Once you remove them from the solution, you should be able to gently scrub away any wax or debris. Afterward, give the earplugs a final rinse with soap or another disinfectant, and allow them to air dry.

Alternative earplug options and reusage

Whether you've been wearing earplugs for years or you're thinking about trying them to improve your quality of sleep, they are generally considered safe to use. However, there are several factors to consider, including what type of earplugs will work best for you. Some people prefer wax earplugs, as they can be easily molded to fit the shape of your ears. Silicone earplugs are also an option, and they come in both hard and soft varieties. However, hard silicone earplugs can be uncomfortable for side sleepers to wear, making soft silicone ones a more viable option. Foam earplugs are another alternative that you might want to consider, especially if you're looking for more sound dampening. Because they're porous, though, they can quickly accumulate bacteria. Regardless of which type of earplugs you choose, always follow the instructions included on the packaging — this may include information on cleaning and whether you can reuse them.

If you aren't satisfied with the options you see over the counter, you may want to contact an audiologist. A medical ear professional may recommend custom-molded earplugs to you, which are specially designed to fit your ears. This means they'll not only feel comfortable, but they'll help you sufficiently block out noise and get some shut-eye. Just keep in mind that you'll still need to clean them regularly to reduce your risk of infection.