THEY’RE a must-have item for any commuter – literally bringing music to your ears.
But experts have warned your headphones could be doing more harm than good.
An expert has warned that wearing earphones, such as Apple’s AirPods, could lead to smelly, itchy and often painful infections.
Our ears produce wax to protect the skin of the canal, help in cleaning and lubrication, and also provide protection from dust and other foreign particles.
But when this natural process is obstructed, it can lead to a build-up of wax – which is actually a combination of dirt, sweat, oil, dead skin and hair.
Lisa Hellwege, clinical director of Earworx, told Yahoo News Australia: “Anything that obstructs that natural pathway of wax out of the ears can lead to wax buildup.
“As with earplugs and hearing aids, earphones sit in the part of the canal where wax is produced, and can actually stimulate the production of more wax when they are in use.”
She explained that the risks were particularly high for those that life in a more humid environment.
Ms Hellwege said: “Water trapped behind built-up wax, especially in humid environments, can lead to ear infections. Symptoms can include pain, odour, discharge and itching.”
She added that people need to allow their ears a good chance to clean themselves, so to switch to over-ear alternatives instead.
“Like cotton buds, earphones often pick up the wax in the outer third of the ear canal where it is produced, and can leave the ears dry and itchy,” she said.
“Let the wax build back up and see if this improves things. Infections can also be reintroduced by soiled earphones – try cleaning them daily with an alcohol wipe which kills 99.9% of pathogens.”
Experts have long warned that we should allow our ears to self-clean – and never shove a cotton bud in there.
They could push wax even further into the ear canal and even damage your eardrum, according to draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
But despite that, recent figures have shown that nearly two-thirds of us use them regularly, and we get through nearly two billion every year.
In fact, we reported earlier this year that a 31-year-old man was left battling a deadly brain infection from using cotton buds in his ears.
Instead, doctors suggest ear irrigation should be used to help those who are experiencing hearing problems due to wax build-up.
This involves an electronic machine safely pumping water into the ear to remove wax under the guidance of a GP.
Katherine Harrop-Griffiths, a consultant in audiovestibular medicine and chair of the Nice guideline committee, said: “Earwax build-up which is causing hearing problems should be managed in primary or community care.
“Ear irrigation is an effective method of removing earwax. Ear drops should be used to soften the wax before irrigation, either immediately before or for up to five days before the procedure.”