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How to Sleep With Ear Infection Pain at Night

You might have noticed how your ear pain tends to worsen at night when you sleep. While the ear pain at any time can prove to be rather annoying, it can be extremely distressing especially when you are trying to go to sleep. The constant throbbing in your ear can leave you sleepless and restless, making it difficult for you to take on the next day with rejuvenated energy.

However, we are here to give you glad tidings of the fact that making minor adjustments to the way you sleep can alleviate troublesome symptoms of earache.

How to Sleep Comfortably With Ear Pain

Sleeping with ear pain is genuinely as difficult as it sounds. Considering the fact that we sleep off a decent portion of our lives, there is little doubt that the way we sleep affects and dictates our actions when we are awake. Whether it’s a pre-existing earache due to an infection or unbearable ear pain that occurred as a result of sleeping wrong, here some simple tips for you to adopt that will help subside your earache:

1. Use a Comfortable Pillow With Ear Hole

Side sleepers are well aware of the aftermaths of sleeping on the side of their infected ear. The resulting soreness and pain won’t go away so easily, nor would your side sleeping habits change overnight.

The best way to manage your ear pain is to sleep on a comfortable pillow with an ear hole in the middle so that even if you sleep with the infected ear down, you don’t experience any sort of ear pain at night.

Primarily, since the pillow doesn’t touch the affected region of your ear, you stay clear of exerting unwanted pressure that would otherwise trigger pain. You will find this particularly helpful if you tend to habitually toss and turn during sleep. Moreover, the lack of contact with your pillow prevents you from developing allergies in your already sore ear as well.

2. Adopt a Comfortable Sleeping Position

elevated sleeping position

If you are constantly waking up with ear pain, chances are that you have been sleeping in a wrong position.

You might have heard of how certain sleeping positions hold the key to alleviating that annoying pain in your ear. However, what we don’t often realize is how simply sleeping in a certain direction won’t necessarily seal the deal for you. Adopting a comfortable sleeping position to relieve ear pain also requires you to understand the anatomical changes your body will be requiring.

Generally speaking, sleeping on your side and back are the recommended sleeping positions thereby ruling out sleeping on one’s stomach as a viable option.

When sleeping on your back, it is absolutely important for you to prop yourself up on some pillows. Doing so ensures that your ears rest higher than the rest of your body, so that excess fluid in your eardrum is easily drained, and pressure or congestion in the ear is effectively prevented. The head elevation can be achieved using multiple pillows or a specialized wedge pillow.

When sleeping on your side, make sure that you don’t sleep on the side with the affected ear, to prevent excessive pressure from triggering your ear pain. However, the need to elevate your head is equally important in this position as well.

3. Heat Therapy

Gentle heat has proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce ear pain at night, whatever the reason of the pain might be. You would be surprised to experience the relief that comes with the presence of warm and moist air around the area of the ear that aches. However, there are certain ways to effectively administer the heat to your painful ear, since direct application of heat is obviously not very safe.

Generally, a hot water bottle can be pressed against one’s ear for a short while to provide relief. Alternatively, you can warm up a microwave-safe plate and wrap a towel around it to use it on your ear. Heating pads and hair dryers can also be used, however caution must be observed with the heat settings which should only remain warm and not too hot which can end up damaging your sore ear.

4. Sip or Swallow

The changes in pressure resulting from allergies, sinus infections or altitude changes can block your Eustachian tube and exert the fluid which collects in your middle ear. This causes excruciating ear pain, to relieve which one needs to unblock their Eustachian tubes and drain the fluid. While most often, the Eustachian tubes unblock on their own, you however can do simple exercises to speed up the process.

Swallowing or yawning tends to trigger the muscles to open up the Eustachian tubes, allowing air to rush in and equalize the pressure differences that originally caused pain. You can also try blowing your nose with a closed mouth and blocked nose, to exert additional pressure in an attempt to open up the blockage in your Eustachian tube. Sipping or drinking fluids, especially before going to bed, tends to have a similar effect in relieving the pressure exerted on your ears.

5. OTC Pain Relievers

Most severe or recurring symptoms of ear pain require appropriate medical attention and cannot be relied upon simple home remedies for relief. Certain ear drops and over-the-counter pain relievers are prescribed by doctors to control the ear ache within their patients. Examples include ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen, which however should never be taken without being prescribed by a doctor.

If however the doctor finds that your ear has been infected, relevant antibiotics will need to be prescribed in order to treat the infection. On the other hand, certain decongestants that help unblock your Eustachian tubes can be taken orally or sprayed within the nose to provide a similar effect.

Most Common Causes of Earache

worse earache during sleep

Ear infections tend to be one of the most common causes of earaches. These infections can develop in your outer, middle or inner ear due to a variety of reasons. These include either factors that cause wear and tear within your ear such as wearing of hearing aids or earphones, or other bacterial infections resulting from respiratory illnesses.

Earache can also result from damage to the ear that is caused while cleaning up the ear canal. On the other hand, a buildup of excess earwax, or a blockage by any tiny object within the ear can also result in severe ear pain.

A change in pressure within the ear resulting from an altitude change or when travelling between mountains, can also block your Eustachian tubes and cause temporary ear pain. However, an earache caused by arthritis in one’s jaw, or toothache will only go away once the underlying issue is treated.

Why is Ear Pain Worse at Night?

Eustachian tubes are the narrow passageways connecting your throat to the middle ear cavity and allowing the free flow of air through them. Vertical position tends to enable these tubes to widen up and allow the flow of air without obstruction. These unblocked tubes therefore allow the movement and drainage of excess fluids from your ear, preventing it to exert pressure on your eardrums and cause pain.

However, when you lay down at night, these Eustachian tubes contract. The resulting constriction of the tubes makes airflow rather difficult, which causes air pressure differences within your ear and hence makes the drainage of fluid from your ear even more difficult. The pressure exerted therefore triggers the ear pain you experience during sleep at night.

Best Position to Sleep to Drain Eustachian Tube

We understand by now that the most crucial factor in allowing the Eustachian tubes to drain out tends to focus on making them dilate enough to allow the free movement of air and fluids. Since a vertical position tends to achieve the best results, it is only fitting that you try to sleep upright rather than lay down to sleep with an ear pain. To achieve this, you can either recline against a set of pillows or sleep on a comfortable armrest  pillow like BedLounge.

If however, sleeping upright tends to be a more tedious task than what you can handle, sleeping in the supine position or side position can work as well, provided you make the necessary amends to your sleeping position. You need to keep your head sufficiently elevated, to make sure that your ears are higher than the rest of your body.

Moreover, it is recommended that side sleepers continue alternating their sides as they sleep. However, make sure that you don’t sleep on the infected side for too long.

lady with severe ear pain at night

Frequently Asked Questions

What side should you lay on if you have an ear infection?

If you have an ear infection, you should sleep on the side of the uninfected or healthy ear. This is because infections in the ear tend to promote a buildup of fluids and secretions of the ear which blocks your Eustachian tubes. When you sleep on the infected side, the additional pressure exerted by your weight on the blocked Eustachian tubes will trigger earaches. Sleeping on the other side however keeps your infected ear elevated from the rest of your body, allowing the fluid to keep draining and preventing excessive pressure buildup on the Eustachian tubes.

Do ear infections hurt worse when lying down?

Yes, infections in the ear get worse when you lie down. This happens because a horizontal anatomical position of your body tends to constrict your Eustachian tubes that are tasked with the draining of excessive ear fluids and maintaining steady flow of air. This constriction blocks these tubes, ultimately resulting in pressure differences within the ear that causes these ear pains to worsen. On the other hand, the steady drainage of these fluids in an upright position prevents the ear pain from getting too bad.

How to sleep with swimmers ears?

Swimmers’ ears develop as a result of the buildup of moisture within one’s ear which provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to cause infections. This infection causes a buildup of fluid within your ears, making you feel uneasy. In order to alleviate the symptoms, you need to sleep with your head elevated to allow the fluid to steadily drain on its own, preventing it from blocking your Eustachian tubes. Moreover, in order to get rid of the bacterial infection, you might need to get that moisture out of your ears. You can either do so by using a dry towel or through a hair-dryer set on warm settings.

How should you sleep to relieve ear pressure?

You should sleep in an elevated position to allow the ear secretions and fluids to drain from your Eustachian tubes, and dissipate the pressure within your ears. Remember, your infected ear(s) need to be above your entire body in order to achieve the desired effect. In order to elevate your head, you can try using multiple pillows to prop yourself up. On the other hand, you can also make use of specially designed wedge pillows or recliners. Sleeping upright, if you can manage it, using a backrest pillow might prove extraordinarily helpful.

How long does ear pain last?

This practically depends on the area of the ear where the infection takes place. Most infections developed on the outer region of the ear are less harmful and can go away on their own in a week or two. However, those developed in the inner ear can take a long time to ease, with symptoms often persisting up to a month after contracting it. Middle ear infections last the shortest, with the symptoms easing up in less than two days.

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