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How to Sleep With an Ear Infection

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 9 minLast updated on October 15, 2022

Ear infection doesn't just come with impaired hearing and pain. Sleeping with pain in the ear is often a guarantee of short nights and insomnia.

But while  waiting for this to go away, there are various ways to sleep with an ear infection.

From natural solutions to medicines and sleep positions, we will explain how to sleep with an ear infection and ease the pain.

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What Is Otitis?

The term otitis refers to all inflammations of the ear. They can be external, middle, or internal. It is inflammation in the inner, middle, or external part of the ear caused by a viral or bacterial infection in the ear.

However, an ear infection is not the same as ear pain. Ear pain isn't necessarily caused by underlying diseases but can be caused by wearing fitting headphones, allergies caused by sleeping on the floor or any hard surface, etc. However, ear pain can be a symptom.

The following are the most common types of otitis or ear infection:

Acute otitis media

Acute otitis media is the typical type of ear infection we are used to hearing about. It is caused by bacteria such as pneumococcus or streptococcus that infects the middle ear (1). There is also a viral form that can be the consequence of nasopharyngitis.

The symptoms are as follows:

  • Ear pain (otalgia)
  • Clogged ears causing ringing
  • Hearing loss
  • Fever
  • Yellowish discharge outside the external ear canal if the eardrum is perforated.

External otitis (swimmer's ear)

Otitis externa is caused by inflammation of the skin lining the external ear canal. This inflammation can be the consequence of a fungus or bacteria.

The symptoms will be as follows:

  • Ear pain, itching, and irritation
  • The sensation of swelling and pressure
  • Hearing loss

Chronic otitis 

Chronic otitis is the name used when someone suffers from repeated ear infections (otitis) and is a relatively common condition in children up to six years old. It affects two-thirds of children of these ages. However, it is a painless disease that has the following symptoms:

  • Blocked ear impression
  • Low-grade fever
  • Puss drainage 
  • Hearing loss

Internal otitis (labyrinthitis)

This otitis is an inflammation that affects the inner ear and causes the following symptoms:

  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling lightheaded and unbalanced
  • Nausea, vomiting, and vertigo.

These symptoms will usually go away fairly quickly within a month. However, in severe cases, the vestibule can be affected and disturb the person's balance. Hearing can also be severely damaged if the cochlea is damaged.

Why Is it Difficult to Sleep With an Ear Infection?

Symptoms of an ear infection include sharp, stabbing pains, ringing in the ears, fever, hearing loss, headaches, and the presence of pus. All these symptoms make it very difficult to sleep at night during otitis. They can lead to more severe conditions such as meningitis or complete deafness if they persist.

This is why it is essential to go to a specialist to obtain treatment. But, while waiting for your appointment, we present our solutions to managing your otitis for a few nights.

How to Sleep With Ear Infection

Next, we will show how to sleep with an ear infection: 

Elevating the head while sleeping

The best way to sleep with an ear infection is on the back at an angle of 45 degrees with the head elevated. Sleeping in a lying position tends to increase the pain in the ear. It's, therefore, advisable to sleep in a semi-recumbent position with the upper body slightly raised.

One can sleep in an armchair that is tilted and naturally raise the body up. The advantage of this system is that the sleeper will not be able to completely lie down unconsciously.

Using pillows

A second solution to sleep with swimmer's ear or other infections will be to use two or more pillows. Unlike our tips on how to sleep with piriformis syndrome, this time around, the pillows are placed at the back, neck to head region. This will allow the sleeper to raise their head.

In addition, there are some pillows with holes in the middle where side sleepers can place their ears. Hence, the pillow surface will not rub on the ear, thus, causing more pain.

Using painkillers to reduce the pain

Painkillers can help people with this problem sleep without pain. Although they can be taken without prescriptions, the doctor may also advise otitis patients to take paracetamolacetaminophennaproxen, or ibuprofen before sleep to lower the fever and pain.

For children under 2 years old, it's important to ask a pediatrician for advice before using painkillers. For those under ongoing medical conditions or who are taking prescription medication, it's also important to ask the doctor which pain reliever would be right.

Solutions to Relieve Ear Infections Overnight

Thankfully, sleeping with otitis is not as difficult as sleeping with broken bones. An ear infection should go away in three days without treatment (2). But the following solutions can help relieve the pains so as not to disrupt sleep:

Antibiotics to treat ear infections

The doctor can offer antibiotics in case of intense pain and fever above 100 degreesIn addition, amoxicillinaugmentincortisporin, or ofloxacin drugs are often prescribed for relieving ear infections.

Hydrating a lot 

Hydration can quicken the healing of otitis as it helps clear the infection from the body. Also, drinking plenty of water during infection with fever compensates for water loss following increased perspiration.

Ear drops

Ear drops can be used in the case of otitis externa. However, ear drops with dexamethasone and ciprofloxacin can be used to treat both acute and external otitis.

Application of hot or cold compresses

Some recommend alternating hot and cold compresses every 10 or 15 minutes. However, one has to be careful with heating pads, never fall asleep while using them, and by no means allow children to use them without supervision. It is also important to monitor the temperature of the heating pad, as one can severely burn the skin if the temperature is slowly raised to a temperature that will burn through desensitization. Also, when applying cold compresses or ice, it's advisable to cover the ear with a cloth and never apply it directly to the skin.

Applying apple cider vinegar 

In case of otitis externa or pus drainage, applying 5 to 10 drops of apple cider vinegar can work. Apple cider vinegar (unfiltered) canhave therapeutic and antibacterial properties that help kill many harmful bacteria and restore the pH of the outer ear canal. It does not relieve ear pain, but thanks to its antimicrobial properties, this method can be used alongside conventional otitis treatments.

Paracentesis

Paracentesis is a small procedure performed on the ear by the doctor. The surgeon can incise the eardrum to evacuate the liquid in the middle ear to relieve otitis. This type of treatment is used on chronic otitis or acute otitis media.

FAQ

What's the best position to sleep to drain the Eustachian tube?

The best position to sleep to drain the Eustachian tube is on the side, in an elevated position. This is the most adopted position for sleeping with meralgia paresthetica and other pathologies. The affected person can sleep in a reclining chair or on an electric box spring. The second solution is to place pillows around the head to prevent it from moving.

What to absolutely avoid with an ear infection?

To avoid making the pain worse, we do not recommend touching the ear, having the ear come in contact with water, or letting the ear get exposed to tobacco smokeextreme temperatures, and drafts.

How to sleep with swimmer's ears?

The best way to sleep with swimmer's ear is on the side, but with the head resting on several pillows, so it is elevated. An ear pillow with a hole to accommodate the ear is also recommended for people with swimmer's ears.

Conclusion

The best way to sleep with an ear infection is in a semi-recumbent position, that is to say, with the upper part of the body slightly raised. In addition, patients with otitis can opt for an electric adjustable reclining bed to be sure not to lie unconsciously during sleep.

For folks who sleep on flat beds, it's also better to sleep with two to three soft pillows placed under the head.

Fortunately, ear infections will go on their own in a couple of days. However, it may help to take pain-relieving drugs and antibiotics. This can quicken the healing time of this pathology and reduce the pain during sleeping and waking time.

We hope you find these tips helpful. And for you, how have you been able to sleep with swimmer's ear and other ear infections? Tell us in the comment section!

References:

  1. Pneumococcal Disease (January 27, 2022). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/clinicians/clinical-features.html
  2. Adrienne Stinson (August 29, 2018). What to know about chronic ear infections. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322913

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