Your earbuds, of course, spend most of their time in your ears, getting warm, waxy and sweaty. But you also probably put them in your pocket, drop them on the subway and maybe even share them with other people. In each of these instances, your earbuds are picking up all kinds of particles, including bacteria—and unlike your hands, you’re not washing them after each use. Instead, you’re just sticking those germ traps right back inside your ears, mere inches from your precious brain.
But according to Katherine Green, chief resident in Otolaryngology (a.k.a. an ear, nose and throat doctor) at the University of Colorado Hospital, the situation isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes, your earbuds are full of germs, but because the ears aren’t an easy entry point for microorganisms, those germs don’t have anywhere to go. “While several studies have looked at whether headphone use leads to chronic ear infections, no definitive link has ever being found,” Green explains.
There are, however, a couple of other scenarios where your earbuds can harm you:
- Listening to loud music for extended periods can cause permanent hearing loss, which means that your coworker whose headphones are so loud that the whole office can hear his music will eventually suffer more than just your withering glare.
- Going deep in your ear with a Q-tip or other object could traumatize your ear canal, allowing bacteria or viruses to travel from your earbuds to your bloodstream. This unlikely (but possible) scenario is the reason why Q-tip boxes say “not for use in ears.”
Long story short: It’s still a good idea to periodically clean your earbuds with rubbing alcohol, which kills germs and also prevents moisture buildup, decreasing the chance that your earbuds will develop into a cozy home for excessive amounts of bacteria. As for ear cleaning, Green offers a solid piece of commonsense: “Don’t stick anything smaller than your elbow inside your ear, and leave your earwax alone.”
After all, haven’t we learned anything from Girls?
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