Warning: This Is What Happens to Your Ears If You Wear Headphones for Too Long

August 2, 2019 Updated: August 6, 2019

For many Americans, wearing earbuds or other kinds of headphones on a regular basis isn’t a lifestyle choice; it’s a necessity. Whether making calls from work on the morning commute or listening to your favorite mix to pump you up for a jog or exercise, lots of us have earphones on for the better part of the day.

But did you ever stop to think about what’s on the surface of these earbuds and inside? Or what having these earphones on all day can do to the pores in your ears?

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As we’ll see today, you definitely should!

Most people don’t think much about their ears until they have some kind of problem. While no one would ever go without washing their face or brushing their teeth, your ears can get just as dirty as these more visible parts and often go uncleaned.

First, let’s talk about why your ears can get blackheads at all. Called “comedones” by doctors, blackheads are the result of clogged hair follicles in the skin. When these combine with dead skin, dirt, and oil, they can block up the skin entirely, creating the iconic “blackhead” that’s visible on the surface of the skin.

Even if you don’t have acne and never have, you can still get blackheads! They’re the direct of result of not taking care of your skin, so you don’t have any excuses.

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Where could your ears be getting all that junk from? Here’s where your headphones come into the picture. Shoving pieces of soft, porous silicone tightly into your ears prevents the pores from breathing. If you keep pores, which are basically just hair follicles, nice and clean and allow them air and light, they stay healthy.

But if you back them with gunk and grime, they can soon become blackheads and get infected and inflamed! Pretty nasty, right? While ears naturally produce wax to protect themselves from germs and dust, excess wax needs to be cleaned out. Earbuds have the effect of jamming the wax back inside.

As Dr. Kelly Reynolds, an ear specialist, told BuzzFeed, “if wax coats or builds up on your earbuds, it can act as a layer to trap bacteria and prevent it from drying out so it can survive and grow.”

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According to Reynolds, as per BuzzFeed, “studies have shown that earbuds cause an 11-fold increase in bacteria in the ears.” When you think about that, you’re probably going to be more inclined to clean them out!

Oh, and what about sharing a pair with a friend? As Reynolds says, when you share headphones, you’re doubling the microbial flora in your ears and introducing new bacteria. Eew!

But for those of us who have to wear earbuds, what is there to do?

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The answer is keeping your ears and earbuds as clean as possible so the pores don’t get blocked up and the blackheads don’t start to develop. While your goal isn’t to get rid of earwax in the inner ear, you definitely should be using q-tips on the outer ear every day to help remove any old wax and junk that’s building up.

When you’re in the shower, don’t forget to wash your ears well with soap. This will help keep bacteria levels in check. And most of all, don’t just clean your ears—clean your earbuds.

What’s the best way to do it? Dr. Reynolds advises “mak[ing] sure to clean any waxy residue off first, then wipe down the earbuds with a cotton ball dampened with disinfecting spray or rubbing alcohol,” as per Buzz Feed.

Just in case you’re having a hard time envisioning the worst, watch this terrifying video from the Emmy Award-winning show The Doctors. It should be great motivation to get those ears and earbuds clean before it’s too late!