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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.

Source: Thinkstock
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