Health and Wellness

Doctors Seeing Increased Ear Infections From Earbud Overuse

Doctors say wearing earbuds too long can lead to infections and other problems

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Thurston Hatcher, like so many others, would use earbuds when he would exercise, but then his ears started to itch.

“I would wake up in the night and actually have, at the risk of sounding gross, fluid coming out of my ears and sometimes ear pain too,” Hatcher said.

An ENT doctor at Rush University Medical Center, Dr. Elias Michaelides says he is seeing plenty of patients with symptoms similar to Hatcher’s, and he says the cause is alarmingly common.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of infections and I think many of those are related to wearing earbuds for long periods of time,” said Michaelides.

That was the case for Julia Addis, who says she wears earbuds constantly for her marketing job.

“They literally were in, like, almost the entire day like for meetings and calls and stuff for work,” she said.

Several months ago, Addis started feeling ear pain. In one case, it got so bad that she had to go to the emergency room twice within 24 hours.

“Having these air pods in my ears all day was really irritating the inside of my ear canal and it was causing me to literally get eczema in my ear,” she said.

From eczema to ear infections, Dr. Michaelides said wearing earbuds too long can cause a wide variety of problems.

“Wax and debris can build up on it and if it’s moist, it can lead to infections,” Michaelides said.

That’s why doctors say you should use alcohol to clean the earbuds and their case at least once a day and take frequent breaks from using them.

“I would recommend everyone takes their earbuds out for at least five minutes every hour, if using them continuously, to get some air into the ear,” Dr. Michaelides said.

Michaelides also recommends trying out different brands to get the right fit.

“There shouldn’t be any pain or irritation after wearing them,” Dr. Michaelides said.

After having five ear infections over several months, these tips have helped Addis stay infection-free recently.

“Knock on wood, I haven't gotten any in a couple of months,” Addis said.

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