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How to sleep with an ear infection

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Sleep isn’t just relaxing and refreshing; it’s essential for our overall health – and we’re programmed to need rest so that day-to-day energy levels don’t dip.

However, sleep can be disrupted by lots of things, including the discomfort caused by an ear infection. Knowing ways you can sleep better even while suffering from ear infection symptoms will help you rest well.

Boots Hearingcare takes a look at how to sleep with an ear infection when symptoms start to become a problem.

Elevation (aka sleeping upright)

Sleeping upright is a great help when it comes to resting with ear infection symptoms. Sleeping sitting up can allow fluid in your ear to drain easier, as well as easing pressure and pain in your middle ear – the likely source of the infection itself.

Try propping yourself up on a stack of pillows, or better yet sleep in a reclining sofa or armchair. As long as you’re upright enough to allow the ears to drain more successfully, you should notice an improvement in symptoms and be able to sleep much easier.

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Over-the-counter painkillers

For adults, taking pain relief medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen before bedtime may be a big help in relieving ear infection symptoms and granting a good night’s sleep. Children under the age of two should not take over-the-counter medicines for an ear infection, unless they have been advised by their pediatrician. Likewise, those with ongoing health conditions should be sure to consult a doctor for advice on which painkiller is best.

Sip and swallow

Sipping water before you go to sleep, or during the night, may help with sleep while suffering from an ear infection. Alternatively, you could always do neck and swallowing exercises in the lead up to sleeping.

This is because the motion of swallowing can help trigger the muscles of the Eustachian tubes, which run from the middle ear to the back of the nasal cavity, to open and drain, acting as a natural means of reducing pain.

Switching positions

Lying on your back puts pressure on your ears, which is exactly what you want to avoid while suffering from an ear infection. It is this pressure that causes pain in the middle ear and prevents you from sleeping well in the first place.

However, by regularly changing positions during sleep, you can help relieve some of this pressure and hopefully drift off that much more comfortably. As previously mentioned, sleeping upright is a good method to try, but for natural, familiar sensations, resting on your side will have the most relaxing effect.

If your ear infection is occurring in just one ear, sleep on the side of the healthy ear to avoid adding even more pressure to the affected area.

Allergy and congestion relief

If you’re an adult and can attribute your ear infection to an upper respiratory infection, e.g. a cold, you may benefit from temporarily using oral or nasal decongestants to help clear any blockage and relieve pressure from your ears, nose and throat – even if just for a short while.

Managing your allergy and congestion symptoms brought on by an ear infection may increase comfort and give you a better night’s sleep. Think your ear infection could be as a result of allergies? Take an antihistamine like chlorpheniramine to help improve symptoms, but only after first consulting with your doctor; it could be that they a recommend more effective treatment for your ear infection.

Children who are having trouble sleeping because of an ear infection shouldn’t be given antihistamines or decongestants as a means to manage symptoms. Their paediatrician will advise on the best course of action to take if your child is struggling to sleep while battling persistent effects of an ear infection.

Ear infections can be awful at night, and it’s vital you have the right amount of sleep to recharge for the day ahead. If an ear infection is preventing you from sleeping, please contact your GP or an audiologist to examine the problem and start treatment as soon as possible.