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Commuters, especially those who use public transport, and workout lovers who walk, cycle, or run, love to use earphones. It is a trend to customize the earphone purchase to reflect their personality. For teenagers and college students, a pair of earphones is often a daily part of life. But not many realize that earphones may not be as innocent as they look.

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A study [1] which measured bacteria levels on audio headsets provided on commercial airline flights brings interesting conclusions. Each typical headset had 60 microorganisms on its surface at the start; after an hour’s use of the headphones by a volunteer, that number went up to 650; roughly 11 times more.

The authors concluded that it’s more likely that the heat and humidity created in the user’s ears cause “resident organisms from the skin, sweat and glands” to congregate out in the open, which to some might seem more worrying.

iPod earphones

Another study [2] has revealed that frequent use of earphones significantly increases bacterial growth in the ear. The authors, researchers from a University located in India, also found that bacteria could transfer from one person’s ear to another’s if using the same headset.

Harmful bacteria was found on 92% of ear swabs taken from people who regularly shared their earphones with friends, compared with only 8% of those who shared less frequently or not at all.
According to this finding, it would seem sharing of earphones should be avoided, or at least should be cleaned thoroughly before sharing with others.

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Pain in the ear
Constant removal/insertion, and repeated use, may irritate the jawbone joint (temporomandibular joint) located near the ear canal. This is mainly related to the foam in-ear phones which expand inside the ear canal, and may lead to general pain and discomfort in the ear.
Irritation in the ear
A bad fit of ear buds may tear or irritate the skin inside the ear due to repeated adjustments. This may cause to growth of bacteria and hence infections.
Infections in the ear
IF the ear is not ventilated enough throughout the day, Diflucan over the counter. Remember to eject the earphones every hour for a few minutes, to allow the ear to “breath”. It is important to clean your earphones regularly, to prevent development and buildup of bacteria. This would lead to infections in the ear.

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  • To prevent infections, clean your ears regularly. A known recommendation is dropping two drops of olive oil into your ear canal to remove any wax build up.
  • Cleanse and disinfect your head phones regularly. A simple anti-bacterial soap solution and a thorough rinsing should be adequate to ensure your earphones are good to go! (to ensure they keep working, remove the foam/silicone cover from the earphones first, then clean the covers only. most earphones are not water resistant).
  • Keep your hands in good hygiene – wash them constantly, especially before using earphones.
  • Keep your ears clean and dry. Use Q-tips to clean them gently, and only on the outer part of the ear. Shoving the Q-tips in the ear canal may cause infections, and in the worst cases – rupture your ear drum.

The right way to use earphones

Tinnitus ringing in the Ears
Some suggestions for using headphones in a healthy way:

  • You should always be able to grab and rotate the end of your earphones. That way, you know it hasn’t gone in too far into the ear canal.
  • When removing your earphones, pull them out cautiously to avoid damaging the ear and the eardrum. Don’t pull them too hard – first of all to protect your precious headset, and second of all to avoid hurting your ear.
  • Should an infection occur, it would be wise to visit the doctor and discontinue earphone use for a few days.

It is easy to overlook the hygiene aspect of earphones, but it is important to remember that they are constantly exposed to dust, dirt and moisture. If you are not careful, these continually enter your body through the ear phones and in to your ear canal.

That doesn’t sound so good, does it? Enjoy your music and your headset, but do it responsibly.

Works Cited

[1] I. a. J. W. E. Brook, “Changes in the microbial flora of airline headset devices after their use.,” The Laryngoscope, vol. 102, no. doi: 10.1288/00005537-199201000-00017, p. 88–89., 1992.
[2] B. S. G. S. C. K. B. I. Mukhopadhyay C, ” A comparative analysis of bacterial growth with earphone use.,” Online J Health Allied Scs., vol. 7(2), p. 4, 2008.

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