Earplugs effectively protect your ears from harmful external noise and prevent permanent hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to loud sounds.
At the same time, many worry that wearing earplugs might negatively affect their hearing health, causing tinnitus, blockages and other conditions. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about earplugs and tinnitus.
Can You Develop Tinnitus From Wearing Earplugs?
If worn correctly, plugs are generally a safe way to protect your hearing, but there are potential dangers. While earplugs do not directly cause tinnitus or worsen it, they can contribute to impacted earwax, ear infections and other tinnitus causes.
Health Risks of Wearing Earplugs
If you’re looking to protect your ears from hearing damage, plugs are a safe bet. Nevertheless, there are some minor health risks involved. Let’s look at a few.
Increased In-Ear Air Pressure
Pushing the earplugs too far into the ear canal may increase the in-ear air pressure, applying force to the eardrum. This can cause ear pain and make tinnitus worse. The effect is especially pronounced when lying down on one side, so this could be an issue if you’re a side-sleeper who uses earplugs to sleep.
You can prevent this by being more mindful when inserting the earplug into the ear canal. And when you remove the earplugs, you should jiggle instead of pulling them straight out.
Yanking the earplugs can create suction, pulling the eardrum. You might experience a rupture, ear pain and hearing loss if you pull hard enough.
Earplugs can interfere with your ears’ natural mechanism for expelling earwax. Usually, chewing and talking will gradually push earwax to the edge of the ear canal, where it will make contact with the air, dry and then fall out.
Using earplugs or hearing aids for a prolonged period can trap the earwax inside and keep it moist.
They can also pack the earwax further down into the eustachian tube, causing an impaction. Earwax blockage can lead to temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.
To prevent earwax blockage, insert the plugs only deep enough to block sound. If you’re using expandable foam earplugs, insert them up to the desired depth and wait for 20 to 30 seconds for them to expand.
Avoid prolonged use of plugs when possible. If you absolutely need to wear hearing protection for hours at a time because of your occupation, you might consider earmuffs. If you must wear earplugs daily, you should clean your ears more often to avoid blockage.
Dirty plugs can transfer bacteria to the inside of your ear, causing an ear infection.
Earplugs also create an overly humid environment that is friendly to fungus and other microbes. Like earwax impactions, ear infections are another potential cause of hearing problems and tinnitus.
You can avoid this problem by using disposable earplugs, so you never wear the same earplugs twice. Alternatively, you can sanitize your plugs daily using warm water and hydrogen peroxide.
Allergic reactions due to earplug usage are extremely rare. However, some individuals are allergic to the material used to make foam plugs. You might try silicone earplugs instead.
Read Also: Can Diabetes Cause Tinnitus?
How to Use Earplugs
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends using the “Roll, Pull, Hold” method for inserting memory foam earplugs:
- Roll the earplug into a narrow tube using one or both hands.
- Pull the top of your ear up and back with your free hand to straighten out the ear canal.
- Insert the rolled-up earplug.
- After inserting the earplug, hold it in with your finger until it expands to fill the ear canal.
- Say a few words. If the earplug has sealed properly, your voice will sound muffled.
If you haven’t inserted the plugs correctly, you won’t get enough noise protection and you might feel some discomfort. To remove an earplug, gently twist it and slowly pull it out. Ripping the earplug out too fast will tug on your eardrum.
How Earplugs Can Prevent Tinnitus
While earplugs can contribute to some underlying causes of tinnitus, they are an effective tool for addressing others. In most cases, the potential benefit outweighs the risk. The types of tinnitus earplugs cause are generally reversible, whereas they effectively prevent common causes of permanent tinnitus.
Prevent Damage to the Inner Ear
One of the leading causes of chronic tinnitus is noise-induced hearing loss, and wearing earplugs is an excellent way to prevent permanent hearing damage.
A 2016 study at an outdoor music festival in Amsterdam found that the risk of temporary hearing loss was much higher in the group that didn’t wear earplugs than in those who did.
Earplugs were effective in preventing Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) after loud music. Ear protection is the first line of defense against chronic and acute tinnitus caused by exposure to damaging noises.
Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Research shows sleep deprivation can worsen tinnitus, and the tinnitus sound makes falling asleep harder.
Light sleepers easily disturbed by a slight noise or a snoring partner can wear earplugs to break this vicious cycle by blocking out external sound.
Did you know that snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea, and there is a strong relationship between tinnitus and sleep apnea?
While earplugs can contribute to some common causes of acute tinnitus like earwax blockage and infection, these risks can be drastically reduced by a few sanitary measures and other best practices.
On balance, earplugs effectively combat the more severe causes of chronic tinnitus, such as hearing loss caused by persistent exposure to loud noises and poor sleep. If you still have concerns about the risks of using earplugs, consult your local audiologist or another hearing care specialist for more information.