Earbuds And Bacteria: a Pandemic Love Story

Premier Health Now
Woman adjusts earbuds in her ear

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You push the earbud in. You pull it out. In. Out. Do it enough times and your ear canal is sure to get irritated.

Now add bacteria from dirty earbuds – and the moisture they trap in your ear canal – and voila! It’s a recipe for infection and a ringing condition called tinnitus.

In the past year, nurse practitioner Brittany Jamison, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, has seen cases of adult ear infections soar at Premier Health Urgent Care in Springboro. She blames it on the heavy use of earbuds during the pandemic. “A lot of people are now working from home, which means wearing an ear piece for virtual meetings,” she says. “I’ve seen more adult ear infections over the last year than I think I’ve ever seen!”

Typically, manufacturers recommend your earbuds ‘seal the ear canal’ for optimal sound. “But doing so creates the perfect environment for an ear infection,” says Jamison. Your ear canal really wasn’t meant to be clogged like that, she says. Especially during hours at a time. Locking in the moisture increases the likelihood that bacteria will multiply. Earbuds also can prevent wax from exiting the ear canal, creating buildups that lead to infection, or make infection worse.

You can reduce your risk of painful ear infections by:

  • Sanitizing earbuds before and after each use with an alcohol pad (or whatever solution the manufacturer recommends). Clean the case, too.
  • Not sharing your earbuds
  • Removing them when not using
  • Never sleeping in them
  • Not pushing them too far into the ear canal

Repeated infections can result in permanent hearing loss. If you have ear pain, discharge from your ear, itching, trouble hearing, or ringing in your ears, stop using your earbuds and consult with your health care provider. 

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Brittany L. Jamison, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

Brittany Jamison, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

Premier Health Urgent Care