I wear ear plugs while sleeping every night. Is such long-term use of ear plugs harmful in any way?
I have been doing so the past 5 years without any noticeable problems or effects.
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According to one site:
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.
Wearing ear plugs every night might be dangerous particularly if you're prone to produce a lot of earwax naturally.
Earwax is a natural protection for the external ear canal, and regular use of ear plugs (as well as cotton swabs) can push the earwax towards the walls of the canal and the eardrum, making it more sticky and more hard, and incapable of being expelled spontaneously. In the long term, this may cause you a feeling of 'fullness' inside your ear, a slight hearing loss and tinnitus, making it also more difficult for the doctor to remove it (and more painful for you). Also be careful to keep them clean and change them often, since they can carry bacteria which would lead to external ear infections that might also affect the middle ear.
I'm attending a ward in the ENT department for my medical degree and I see this quite often, and the patients are never happy to have their earwax removed with a pointy metal object :)