While earplugs are generally safe, there are a few possible side effects that can occur with nighttime use, especially if you’re someone who uses them daily. The risks of sleeping with earplugs might include:
1. Earwax and ear infections
One possible risk of sleeping in earplugs is a buildup of earwax. While earwax is key to maintaining the health of your inner ears, a buildup of wax, or an ear infection, can cause a range of problems - from itching and pain to dizziness, nausea, hearing difficulties and tinnitus. If you do think you’re suffering from an infection or extra earwax, get in touch with your hearing care specialist as soon as possible to avoid long-term damage.
2. Hearing loss and tinnitus
If you regularly wear earplugs, over time earwax can be pushed back into your ear, causing it to become impacted, which can lead to temporary hearing loss and tinnitus. However, it’s important to note that while on their own earplugs can’t cause permanent tinnitus or hearing loss, using the same earplugs over and over again can result in bacteria build up and infection which, if left untreated, can cause permanent loss or damage.
3. Other external risks
While there’s no doubt that undisturbed sleep is important, there might also be a number of other risks that could occur if you frequently sleep with earplugs. These can range from not hearing an emergency or danger, such as a fire, alarm or phone call, to missing a baby crying. But there are a number of things you can do to minimise these risks:
Clean or discard your earplugs every day: most earplugs are designed to be disposable for added safety, but some people will use one set of earplugs for an extended period of time. It’s a good idea to throw out your earplugs if you start to notice any sort of discolouration or odour - this is because wax will build up on the surface of the plug, making it easier to transfer bacteria from your hands to your ears.
It’s also important to make sure your hands are washed and dried before using the earplugs, so as to avoid any infections or cross-contamination. As well as this, you should only ever insert earplugs into clean, dry ears, as any moisture can lead to an infection.
Ensure that you insert the plug correctly: to avoid any unnecessary issues, it’s important to make sure you’re properly inserting your earlug into your ear. Here’s how to insert expandable foam earplugs:
Bear in mind that other types of earplug, such as premoulded versions made from rubber or silicone, will not compact as easily, and should be gently inserted into the ear with the narrowest section first.
Don't ignore any changes to your hearing or ears: if you’ve noticed an increase in earwax, or any kind of stuffy feeling in your ears, it’s important that you don’t ignore it, and instead pop in to see a hearing specialist for a check up and to have your hearing tested.
- Make any necessary adjustments: if you know you’re a light sleeper and require earplugs to sleep soundly, it might be a good idea to invest in additional support, such as an alarm designed for the deaf or hard of hearing, which vibrates if smoke is detected.