Are you someone who constantly has their earbuds in?
It could be doing you more harm than you know – and experts are warning it is not just your hearing that is paying the price.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Doctor’s disgusting find from earbud.
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Listening to phones, music, movies and shows that are too loud and for too long is putting more than one billion young people at risk of hearing loss, new research this week revealed.
But frequent earbud users also face a swathe of other ear issues that are less commonly discussed, and more needs to be done than just turning down the racket.
Wearing your earbuds and earphones for too long can disrupt the natural wax cycle, says Bond University medicine and biomedical sciences associate professor Christian Moro.
“It’s this natural progression of moving debris out of the ear,” he told 7NEWS.com.au, adding that earwax exists to trap dust, bacteria, skin cells, insects and other things.
“When we put earbuds into our ear, we block that wax’s ability to escape.
“We stop air getting in that can help (the wax) dry out and flake off. We also trap sweat and moisture, so it stays wet and sticky for longer.”
While earbuds sit in your ear similar to hearing aids, the devices have different effects.
“Hearing aids are very well controlled – anything that goes into your ear, they keep them sterilised and clean, there’s a process of making sure you don’t get infections,” Moro explains.
“Whereas with earbuds, you tend to pick them out of your bag and put them right in, so we’re exposing a lot of bacteria, dirt, other things straight into our ear when it really shouldn’t have that.”
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A lack of guidelines on the need to keep your earbud devices clean runs the risk of users putting themselves at risk of infection.
“What can happen with the earwax when it comes to the long-term, most of the time you can clear it out, but introducing bacteria, fungus and even causing inflammation can end up damaging the hearing sometimes permanently, at the very least it can bring on infections,” Moro said.
Those who keep their AirPods or earbuds clean but rarely take them out are not safe from trouble either.
“Even if we put very clean ones in our ears for a long period of time, the ear is unable to have that escalator self-cleaning function,” Moro explained.
“It leaves it sticky for longer than it should and even with no infection, the stickiness will actually sometimes bring white blood cells and cause more clogging in that area which can then get that feeling of fullness, hearing loss temporarily, ear pain.”
One viral video from ear, nose and throat doctor Dr Sina Joorabchi showed a downside to AirPod overuse – a “fungus ball” in a patient’s ear.
The fungus infection called otomycosis created a “fungus and earwax mixture” in the patient’s ear, who claimed to have worn his AirPods “constantly”.
Turn down the racket
Listening too loud and for too long can have also serious ramifications, Moro said.
“One in three Australians have some kind of noise-related ear damage and about 3.6 million people are living with some form of hearing loss,” Moro explained.
“A lot of these could be prevented. We don’t want to exacerbate that more than it is.”
Earbuds as technology are relatively new and as they boom in sales, experts are not sure on their long-term effect on Australia’s hearing loss problem.
“It’s not looking good and we’re not really doing much to decrease it,” Moro warned, adding that education was important.
Expert tips for healthy earbud use
- Keep them clean. Don not put them in when dirty.
- If you have to have audio for a long period of time, opt for over-ear headphones to allow for a little more airflow.
- Keep your ears in open air to generate airflow for as long as possible.
- Give your ears a break when you can.
- Be aware of what’s going on – if you feel ear pain, if it is itchy, if there is that fullness or hearing loss, then be really aware of it and get it checked out.
- Keep the volume down.
- If wax build up is an issue, see a GP do not try a self-remedy.
“We want to leave our ears doing what they do best,” Moro said.