How To Sleep With A Ruptured Eardrum

Should You Sleep On The Side Of A Ruptured Eardrum? (2024)

Last updated: 31.10.2023 Reading time: 5 Min.

A ruptured eardrum can be painful, and sleeping with one can be a real nightmare!

But you don't have to let a sore ear steal your sleep. 👂

Did you know that the right sleeping positions and strategies can take the pressure off and alleviate discomfort caused by a ruptured eardrum?

Our guide is full of useful tips to help you sleep again.

Let's take a look at how. 👇

Sleep with a ruptured eardrum

Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum

First things first, let's look at what your eardrum is and what a rupture feels like (or you can skip straight to our section on how to sleep with a ruptured eardrum if you prefer).

Your eardrum is an intricate and essential part of your ear anatomy.

Scientifically termed the tympanic membrane [1], it's a thin flap of skin tightly stretched like the top on a drum, which vibrates when sound hits it. 🎶

It divides your outer and middle ear and enables hearing.

An eardrum perforation (or rupture) occurs when there's a tear or a hole in this membrane.

But what does a tympanic membrane perforation (eardrum rupture) feel like [2]?

Understanding the symptoms of a ruptured eardrum will ensure you can quickly take action to start healing and reduce pain.

Symptoms of ruptured eardrums include:

  • Hearing loss.
  • A ringing or buzzing sound (this could also be a sign of tinnitus [3]).
  • An earache or ear pain.
  • Itching in your ear.
  • Clear fluid, pus or bleeding from the ear.
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • A high temperature.

A ruptured eardrum is definitely not a pleasant experience. 😬

But as bad as these symptoms seem, there are still ways to get a decent night's sleep.

Happy woman
You'll be happy to hear there are ways to get a great night's sleep when you have a burst eardrum.

We'll discuss more in our 'How to sleep with a ruptured eardrum' section, but first, let's take a look at what might have caused your ruptured eardrum. 👇

Common causes of ruptured eardrums

A ruptured eardrum is, unfortunately, a condition that can happen to anyone, regardless of age or lifestyle. 😓

It can occur in just one ear but may affect both ears.

But what causes eardrums to rupture?

Common causes of eardrum ruptures include:

  • Ear infections and sinus infections are among the leading causes of eardrum ruptures among children, particularly when a build-up of puss in the ear canal or middle ear causes pressure and needs somewhere to go.
  • Injury, for instance, from a nasty knock on your ear.
  • Foreign objects like cotton buds can also cause ruptures.
  • Extremely loud noises, for instance, from a concert, machinery, or explosions, can cause acoustic trauma ruptures.
  • Sudden changes in air pressure from flying or scuba diving could also lead to ruptured or popped eardrums.

If you have experienced one of these events recently and are now suffering, you may have ruptured your eardrum.

Now we know what they feel like and what can cause them, it's time to get into how to sleep with burst eardrums. 👇

How to sleep with ruptured eardrums

Managing sleep with a ruptured eardrum doesn't have to be a nightmare!

And getting a good night's sleep can contribute to faster healing [4] and generally feeling better.

Night is the time for regeneration. A vital rhythm for humans...

Björn Steinbrink

Sleep Coach

Between the pain and its potential to disrupt your normal sleeping position, you may find sleep slipping out of your grasp.

But that doesn't have to be the case.

Let's dive into falling asleep fast (with recommendations on the best sleeping positions) if you have a ruptured eardrum. 😴

Should you sleep on the side of a ruptured eardrum?

While you should never sleep directly on a ruptured eardrum, there's good news for side sleepers.

You can sleep on the non-affected side of your head.

So, if your right eardrum is ruptured, you'll want to sleep on your left side with your right ear facing up and away from your pillow. 🛌

Sleeping on side
The answer to what side should I sleep on with a ruptured eardrum is simple: On the side with the unaffected ear.

This strategy minimises pressure and irritation on the affected ear, aiding your comfort throughout the night.

But what if you're a back sleeper or, even trickier, both of your eardrums are perforated?

Let's take a look. 👀

Sleeping on your back with ruptured eardrums

Whether you sleep on your back or are dealing with two ruptured eardrums, fear not! 🙌

Sleeping on your back is not just feasible but one of the best sleeping positions for ruptured eardrums.

It's recommended to slightly elevate your head when sleeping on your back with perforrated eardrums.

This can be achieved by adding an extra pillow beneath your head or using a body pillow. 🛏️

elevated body pillow
A body pillow can keep you comfortable while elevating your upper body.

This simple adjustment reduces pressure on the eardrums [5], making it easier for you to drift off to sleep.

Whether dealing with one perforated eardrum or two, this positioning can make a big difference to your comfort and sleep quality. 😴

Caring for ruptured eardrums at home

Luckily, ruptured eardrums usually heal by themselves in 2 to 8 weeks.

In the meantime, there are several things you can do at home to help. 🏠

What you should do:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medications like paracetamol or ibuprofen as recommended.
  • A warm, dry compress over the affected ear can also provide much-needed comfort.

However, there are a few things you should avoid doing while your eardrum is on the mend. 👇

Disclaimer: We're not medical professionals and cannot offer medical advice. Please consult your GP or medical professional before taking any medication.

What not to do when you have ruptured eardrums

As already discussed, you shouldn't put any pressure on the ruptured eardrum

So for those wondering, "What side should I sleep on with a ruptured eardrum?" - Sleep on the opposite side of the burst eardrum, on the unaffected ear.

But what else shouldn't you do when you have a ruptured or burst eardrum?

Let's take a look.

What not to do:

  • Get water in your ear.
  • Insert anything, such as cotton swabs, into your ear.
  • Blow your nose too hard (this can cause further damage during the healing process).
  • Fly or do any activities involving pressure changes.

Avoiding these things will give your eardrum (or eardrums) the best chance of healing. 🩹

Ear infections are one of the most common problems faced with eardrum ruptures.

Not putting anything (including water) in your ear is an effective way to prevent an ear infection.

Of course, you can't really avoid showering while your eardrum is healing and taking a warm bath could help you relax, reducing the pain.

So what do you do? 🤔

A handy tip is to put a bit of Vaseline on a cotton ball and gently place it in the outer ear.

Just remember not to push it too far into your ear.

How long do ruptured eardrums take to heal?

Wondering how long it takes for a ruptured eardrum to heal? 🤔

Generally, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to about two months for a ruptured eardrum to heal.

time and stress
A perforated eardrum should usually heal completely in a couple of months.

But the healing process may vary from person to person.

If your eardrum isn't getting any better or it's taking longer than expected, it's essential to seek medical advice. 🏥

When to go to the doctor for ruptured eardrums

If you haven't seen any improvement or healing after a few weeks, it's time to seek medical attention.

When to see a doctor:

  • Sudden or worsening hearing loss over several days or weeks.
  • If your ear bleeds or there's discharge accompanied by hearing loss.
  • Experiencing dizziness, fever, nausea, or vomiting.
  • If you have anything stuck in your ear.

If you're experiencing severe pain and are worried about your eardrum healing, don't hesitate to call 111. 📱

They'll help point you in the right direction.

While burst eardrums usually heal on their own, a doctor can help you get treatment for a perforated eardrum.

Typically, perforated eardrum treatments include prescribing antibiotics to prevent or treat an infection.

Completing the full course of antibiotics for a ruptured eardrum prescribed by your doctor is crucial for effectively treating any underlying infection, promoting healing, and preventing antibiotic resistance. 👍

In some extreme cases, treatment options may include a surgical procedure (known as a myringoplasty).

This will repair the eardrum if it isn't healing on its own.

Can you sleep with a ruptured eardrum?

While we can't guarantee the best night's sleep, it's certainly possible to get those zzz's in even when you have a ruptured eardrum (or eardrums). 🥳

Sleeping on your back with your head elevated is the best position for reducing pressure.

Or you can sleep on the opposite side of your body if you have one ruptured eardrum.

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and paracetamol can also help provide comfort when you have a ruptured eardrum.

Disclaimer: We're not medical professionals and cannot offer medical advice. Please consult your GP or medical professional before taking any medication.

Take a look at some of our favourite comfort items for an even better night’s sleep:

Frequently asked questions

  • What's the best position to sleep in when I have fluids in my ear?

    Suffering from fluid in your ear

    This can happen when you have an ear infection or a ruptured eardrum.

    The ideal sleep posture is one where your head is slightly elevated

    This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting upright.

    It's about creating an angle that encourages fluid to drain, alleviating pressure and pain in your middle ear - a common source of infection. 

    Use extra pillows to ensure a comfortable elevation for optimal rest and recovery.

  • Is it better to sleep on my back or side if I have a ruptured eardrum?

    Sleeping on your back with your head slightly elevated is generally considered the best sleeping position.

    It can help relieve pressure in the middle ear, meaning you get a better night's sleep.

    But what about if you sleep on your side?

    You're likely wondering, "What side should I sleep on with a ruptured eardrum?"

    Well, you can sleep on the side of the unaffected ear.

    So the ear with the perforated eardrum would be face up, with no pressure put on it by your pillow.

  • What does it mean if I have fluid discharge from my ear while sleeping?

    Experiencing fluid discharge from your ear while sleeping could indicate various issues

    While it may simply be ear wax, it could also be a sign of a ruptured eardrum or an ear infection affecting the middle or outer ear. 

    Damage to the eardrum or the presence of a foreign body in the ear could also result in fluid discharge. 

    If symptoms persist or worsen, it is essential to seek medical advice.

  • What should I not do when I have a ruptured eardrum?

    If you're nursing a ruptured eardrum, it's crucial to understand what actions to avoid

    Stay clear of water activities like swimming to prevent getting your ear wet during the healing phase. 

    Water is one of the common causes of middle ear infections when someone has a ruptured eardrum.

    Avoid inserting anything into your ear, including cotton buds or eardrops, unless your doctor prescribes them. 

    You should also not use earplugs or headphones during this time.

    Furthermore, blowing the nose can cause ear pops, which may hinder healing. 

    If you're wondering, "What side should I sleep on with a ruptured eardrum?" - you should never sleep on the ruptured eardrum.

    It's always best to either sleep on your back or, if you sleep on your side, to sleep on the unaffected ear with your ruptured eardrum facing up.

    While a ruptured eardrum usually heals on its own, you'll need to consult a healthcare provider if symptoms persist.

  • How can I speed up the healing of a ruptured eardrum?

    Accelerating the healing process of a ruptured eardrum involves a few key steps, including:

    • Keep the ear dry, particularly while showering, to reduce the risk of infection (a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly can help with this). 
    • Avoid cleaning the ears to allow the eardrum sufficient time to recover. 
    • Be gentle when blowing your nose to prevent added pressure on the eardrum. 
    • Over-the-counter pain medications can help you rest and recover.
    • And a dry, warm compress can offer pain relief.

    Follow these steps, and your eardrum should recover soon.

    If it doesn't, you should call 111 or make an appointment with your GP.

  • What should I do if my ears are bleeding?

    It can be alarming if you notice your ears bleeding.

    Though sometimes, with bleeding ears, there's no pain.

    But why are your ears bleeding?

    It may be caused by conditions like ear infections or popped ears (i.e. ruptured eardrums) that usually heal independently. 

    However, if ear bleeding continues, it's worth calling 111 or contacting your GP

    This is crucial, especially if the bleeding ear is coupled with recent head trauma, sudden or worsened hearing loss, dizziness, or fever.

    It's better to be safe and get professional medical advice.

  • How to treat a perforated eardrum?

    Most ruptures will mend by themselves.

    But your GP may suggest antibiotics to prevent or handle infections. 

    Surgical intervention like myringoplasty may be advised if natural healing isn't progressing. 

    If symptoms continue, revisit your GP.

  • Can I fly with an ear infection or a ruptured eardrum?

    Though flying with a perforated eardrum is typically safe, it can potentially cause discomfort due to changes in air pressure. 

    However, if you've undergone surgery like myringoplasty to mend a ruptured eardrum, you should refrain from flying until your healthcare professional confirms it's safe. 

  • Should I take time off work with a perforated eardrum?

    Jobs that require frequent bending or rapid head movements might necessitate a short leave (a few days to a week) to expedite healing

    However, if your work is low-impact and your body's recuperating well, you may be able to return immediately. 

    Whether or not you need time off work will largely depend on how you feel and how quickly your eardrum heals.

    Consult your healthcare provider for advice if you are uncertain.

  • What are ear infection symptoms?

    Ear infection symptoms can often appear swiftly. 

    Predominant symptoms include ear pain, a sensation of pressure or fullness inside the ear, and potential difficulty hearing

    Other signs might include a high temperature, discharge running from the ear, itching or irritation.

    A doctor can prescribe antibiotics to treat the ear infection.

  • References

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Katharyn Duffy

Content Writer

Katharyn is a research pro with a BA in English and over 4 years of experience writing health and well-being content. She uses her understanding of sleep and its importance to cut through the nonsense and provide honest information about various sleep products and topics.

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