Health Risks for People Who Sleep with Earplugs
Nightly earplug use is associated with three general health and safety risks:
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a substance secreted (or drained) in the ear canal on a daily basis. It protects the skin and tissue of the inner ear against contaminants like bacteria and fungi, as well as water, and provides much-needed lubrication. Wearing earplugs can affect how much earwax is drained, and this can lead to earwax impaction, or buildup. One common side effect of earwax impaction is tinnitus, a condition characterized by a constant ringing in the ears. Other outcomes may include hearing loss, leaky discharge, or ear infections.
The best way for earplug users to prevent earwax impaction is to thoroughly clean the ear canal on a regular basis — if not every day, then multiple times per week. Cleaning and replacing earplugs can also help reduce the risk of impaction.
In addition to infections caused by earwax impaction, people who use earplugs may become infected if they do not regularly and properly clean their plugs. Failure to do so allows bacteria to accumulate, and placing bacteria-infested plugs in one’s ear canal can easily lead to an infection. Foam is particularly conducive to bacteria buildup. For this reason, many earplugs are designed for one-time use.
To clean reusable earplugs, simply submerge them in warm water and rub away dirt and waxy buildup. Once they are clean, place the earplugs under running cold water to rinse away any traces of soap, which can affect the structural integrity of the earplugs. Lastly, place them on a clean towel to dry.
Because they effectively block outside noise, earplugs can pose a risk to sleepers by preventing them from hearing certain activities in their home. These include emergency situations, such as a fire or home intruder, as well as medical issues involving family members or roommates. People with young children may want to refrain from using earplugs for this reason.