The Adverse Effects of Earplug Use at Night

Updated February 21, 2017

Earplugs are small devices that can be inserted into the ear canal to protect the wearer from noise, dust, water or even strong winds. People sometimes wear them at night, in hospitals and during long flights to improve their sleep, but this has its drawbacks, particularly if the earplugs are used frequently.

Increased Air Pressure

Pushing an earplug too far into the ear canal results in an increase in the pressure of the air inside, as explained by Sound of Tinnitus. This can cause discomfort and pain during sleep and can happen unnoticed at first as the wearer turns over in bed and presses down on their ear. Foam earplugs, which expand slowly to block out noise, can steadily increase the air pressure inside the ear canal. If pressure develops and causes pain, the earplug should be slowly removed rather than pulled straight out to prevent damage to the ear drum.

Bacteria Buildup

Frequent use of earplugs can push wax onto the ear drum, resulting in clogged ears, infections, hearing loss and pain. Ear wax is important in clearing the ears of harmful particles and bacteria, so preventing it from leaving the ear or compressing it further inside will create a build-up of those harmful particles. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist, sheltered environments such as a blocked ear canal, so earplugs must be regularly removed and cleaned and the ear itself should be ventilated and gently cleansed.

Temporomandibular Pain

The temporomandibular joint is a small nodule near the opening of the ear canal. Some earplugs are designed specifically for the wearer, but others are standard shapes and sizes which may not fit everyone. By wearing a poorly fitting earplug, a person's temporomandibular joint can become irritated and inflamed, causing pain and occasionally otitis externa (ear inflammation or "swimmer's ear"). Barrier earplugs, which are made from a waxy substance and do not insert into the ear canal, are used by swimmers to avoid ear infections and to keep water out of the ears.


It is estimated that one in every five people will have tinnitus to some degree, according to the website It is essentially a continual, monotonous ringing sensation in the ears, as if a small bell is being continually pressed. Tinnitus is in fact not a disease or condition, but a symptom of another illness that can be more difficult to detect, such as an infection, exposure to regular loud noises, foreign particles, nose allergies or wax build-up. From this list, it is easy to see how tinnitus is connected to the issues of earplug use. Although it is a subtle problem, tinnitus can cause the sufferer loss of sleep, frustration and even depression if it is severe.

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About the Author

Natasha Parks has been a professional writer since 2001 with work published online and in book format for "Thomson Reuters," the "World Patents Index" and Her areas of expertise are varied and include physics, biology, genetics and computing, mental health, relationships, family crises and career development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biophysics from King's College, London.