Although most common in children, ear infections occur in people of all ages. While the outer, middle and inner ear can get infected, the diagnosis of an ear infection is usually referring to a middle ear infection, or otitis media. Ear infections cause symptoms of pain, fullness or ear pressure. These infections may resolve on their own, and if antibiotics are required, symptoms often improve within a few days of starting therapy. In the meantime, ear pain and discomfort can get in the way of sleeping. Below are some tips to sleep better while your infection clears.
Step 1: Pain Relief
Take a pain reliever such acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen before bedtime. For children under the age of 2, ask your pediatrician for advice before using pain relievers. If you are under a doctor's care for any ongoing medical condition or if you take prescription medications, ask your doctor which pain reliever is best for you.
Step 2: Manage Allergies and Congestion
Adults who have ear infections which is connected to a upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, may benefit from temporary use of oral or nasal decongestants, such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine. Using these before bed may improve comfort and allow better sleep. If your ear infection is related to allergies, an antihistamine such as chlorpheniramine may help improve symptoms. In children, antihistamines or decongestants are not considered beneficial to manage symptoms of otitis media, so only use these under the guidance of your child's pediatrician.
Step 3: Elevate
Try to sleep in a position which encourages the fluid in your ear to drain. Sleep on a recliner or with an extra pillow so your head is comfortably propped up. To elevate the head of your bed, place 5- to 6-inch wood blocks under the bed feet, or buy a wedge pillow, available at many medical supply stores, which you can place between your mattress and box springs.
Step 4: Sip or Swallow
Sip water before you go to sleep, or during the night. Alternatively, eat a light snack. Swallowing can help trigger the muscles that help the Eustachian tubes, or tubes that run from the middle of the ear to the back of the nasal cavity, to open and drain -- thereby reducing pain.
Step 5: Sleep Position
Try sleeping on your side, since lying on your back places more pressure on your ears. It may be more comfortable, and help drainage, to sleep on the side of the healthy ear.
Things You'll Need
Acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen
Oral or nasal decongestants
Allergy medication, if you have allergies
5- to 6-inch wood blocks
You can reduce your or your child's risk of ear infections by not smoking or avoiding second-hand smoke, managing allergies and making sure you or your child are up to date on your recommended immunizations.
Ear infections, if they do not improve or are not treated, can cause permanent hearing loss in both children and adults. See a doctor if you or your child has a severe earache or any loss of hearing. If your baby has a fever, pulls on his ears, is unusually irritable, can't sleep, or doesn't respond as usual to sounds, take him to his pediatrician. Also, if you or your child experiences a sudden sharp pain, followed by drainage of blood or pus in the ear, see a doctor immediately, as this may signal a perforated eardrum.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD