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The Gross Earbud Habit You're Probably Guilty Of

BACTERIA AND FUNGUS IN YOUR EARS AND EVERYWHERE.

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Earbuds — you can't live without them, right?

Twitter: @lorenfrey

Earbuds, earphones, in-ear headphones — whatever you call them — are a necessary part of life. They make it possible to listen to your favorite music or podcasts literally everywhere, and more importantly, they make public transportation and the gym much more bearable. Plus, they're a savior when you are feeling antisocial and introverted AF. They're basically an extension of your body.

But carrying your earbuds everywhere and repeatedly shoving them into your waxy ears is actually pretty gross.

Instagram: @therealasiastar / Via instagram.com

Since these babies come in constant contact with a hole in our body, it's safe to say they can get pretty disgusting.

So we reached out to germ expert Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental health at the University of Arizona. We wanted to know how germy these can actually get, and how gross it is to share them with a friend.

FYI: Your ears are full of wax, dead skin cells, and bacteria — all of which ends up on your earbuds.

Anand2022 / Wikicommons / Via en.wikipedia.org

Even though it looks super gross, wax is actually pretty harmless. "It's a by-product of our ear trying to cleanse itself of germs and dust," says Reynolds. And everybody has a particular ~bacterial flora~ in their ears — meaning the bacteria is normal and doesn't cause infection in the body.

"Research has shown that the microbial flora of the ear usually consists of pseudomonas, staphylococcus, and strep," says Reynolds. Even though those sound really bad, many people carry these types of bacteria without any issues. However, if the bacterial count becomes too high and passes your body's "threshold," or new bacteria enters your ear, it can cause an ear infection.

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But earbuds also get covered in germs from the surfaces they touch, like the inside of your purse or a public table.

Instagram: @fire_snyper / Via instagram.com

The real issue with earbuds is that they pick up all kinds of stuff from the environment after they become waxy, sticky, and moist from sitting inside your ears. "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," Reynolds says.

So just think about all the things your earbuds touch during the course of a day, and how many germs they're picking up before you stick them right back in your ear. "Studies have shown that earbuds cause an 11-fold increase in bacteria in the ears," Reynolds says. Pretty gross, right?

And sharing earbuds with someone else only coats them in even more germs.

KristinaJovanovic / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com|Images%20similar%20to:%20484932584|484932584/f=CPIHV/s=DynamicRank

Even though forgetting your headphones is a small tragedy, it's seriously gross to share them or borrow a pair from someone else. As we mentioned earlier, people can carry bacteria like staph and strep without a problem. "But when you share headphones, you're doubling the microbial flora in your ears and introducing new bacteria," says Reynolds, which can be harmful.

If staph from the ear gets into an open wound, cut, or exposed hair follicle, it can cause serious skin infection and other problems. And it doesn't matter if it's your partner or family member, says Reynolds. Sure, you might be regularly exposed to their mouth bacteria, but their ear bacteria are a whole other story.

To make matters worse, earbuds physically trap heat and moisture in your ear, making it the perfect place for all of that bacteria to grow.

Bananastock / Getty Images / Via thinkstockphotos.com|One%20Person|65803|NumberOfPeople/R|Close-up|60719|Composition/f=CTPIHVX/s=DynamicRank

Earbuds also contribute to bacterial growth because they block off a part of the ear that's normally open to air. "This allows for moisture and heat to get trapped, which makes it much easier for bacteria to grow so your ear is more vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infections such as swimmer's ear," Reynolds says. Wearing earbuds while you're hot and sweaty at the gym definitely doesn't help either.

Bad earbud hygiene can increase your risk of ear infections, ear fungus, pimples or boils, and more.

Wellischik / Wikicommons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Middle-ear infections (otitis media) are super common, says Reynolds, especially in younger children. So even if you haven't had one before, earbuds can increase your risk by increasing the bacterial growth and germs in your ear.

Other unpleasant infections that can result from using dirty or shared earbuds include ear fungus, swimmer's ear, ear mites, pustules, blackheads, and pimples. "The good thing is that your ears aren't really an entry site for illnesses like the flu, Norovirus, or common cold," says Reynolds. But that cord still comes pretty close to your face and mouth, so be extra careful during flu season or a stomach bug outbreak.

The solution: Disinfect your earbuds regularly, store them in a clean case, and keep them to yourself.

It is / Via amazon.com

You don't have to clean your earbuds every day, but disinfecting them once a week will help reduce the waxy buildup and germ count. And if you must share, sanitize them immediately before and after.

"When you disinfect, make sure to clean any waxy residue off first, then wipe down the earbuds with a cotton ball dampened with disinfecting spray or rubbing alcohol," says Reynolds. Just make sure to use any liquid sparingly so you don't increase the moisture or damage the wiring inside.

And give them a clean, dry home instead of the bottom of your bag. You can get a case like the one pictured above for $7.99 on Amazon or make a DIY case with an Altoid tin, your old prescription pill bottles, or any other small pouch or case.

  1. How often do you clean your earbuds?

    Literally never.
    Only when they're visibly dirty or gross.
    Every week or so.
    All the time — can't have my headphones looking sketchy and gross.

The Gross Earbud Habit You're Probably Guilty Of

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How often do you clean your earbuds?
  1.  
    vote votes
    Literally never.
  2.  
    vote votes
    Only when they're visibly dirty or gross.
  3.  
    vote votes
    Every week or so.
  4.  
    vote votes
    All the time — can't have my headphones looking sketchy and gross.
  1. Be honest, do you ever share your earbuds?

    Ew, no.
    Sometimes, but only out of pure desperation.
    Yea, but only with my BFFs and family.
    Of course! What's mine is yours.

The Gross Earbud Habit You're Probably Guilty Of

Take quizzes and chill with the BuzzFeed app.
Get the app
Take quizzes and chill with the BuzzFeed app.
Get the app
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later
Looks like we are having a problem on the server.
Be honest, do you ever share your earbuds?
  1.  
    vote votes
    Ew, no.
  2.  
    vote votes
    Sometimes, but only out of pure desperation.
  3.  
    vote votes
    Yea, but only with my BFFs and family.
  4.  
    vote votes
    Of course! What's mine is yours.

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