Do earbuds cause ear wax build-up? (and what to do about it)


Using earbuds for a long time will feel uncomfortable for your ears. It won’t take long before the earbuds are covered in ear wax. I was wondering if using earbuds for an extended period of time would somehow disturb the natural production of ear wax? I did some research and in this article, I will share what I found.

So the question is, do earbuds cause ear wax build-up? Your ears have their own process designed to keep themselves clean. You do have ear wax build-up that expands and then cleans itself naturally. You shouldn’t intervene with that, however if you do you are disturbing it. By inserting earbuds in your ears you are removing some ear wax. And obviously the ears will have to produce more earwax. The more you use earbuds, the more ear wax build-up you will have.

On top of that, if you use earbuds without cleaning your ears, it will lead to ear wax build-up and even other bacteria will build up there as well. Without cleaning your ears before you use the earbuds, you can end up pushing that earwax further and further into the ear. Obviously this will make it really hard to eliminate it. And in the long run, this has the potential to damage your ears significantly. 

Why do earbuds cause ear wax build-up?

One thing to note about ear wax is that earbuds will trap moisture in the ears. Normally the ears will self-clean thanks to earwax and whenever you use the earbuds you are pushing the wax back. That means it will eventually build up in the ear canal and that will cause blockages. Most of the time it will also impact the ear wax production, which is something that you have to take into consideration as much as possible. 

Most of the time the issue will appear if you use earbuds for a few hours every day. That means you are blocking the canal and the wax itself can’t really get itself out of the ear naturally. As a result, it will form various earwax plugs. When you use the earbuds, you’re basically pushing those plugs deeper. Which is why you feel things like ear pain or hearing issues.

It’s definitely something that can lead to ear trauma, even if it doesn’t seem to be that severe or problematic at first. Since music is blasted directly at your ear canal, if you listen to a lot of music at a very high volume, you will end up with hearing problems

Is it better to use on-ear or over-ear headphones?

Woman with over-ear headphones

Ideally, you want to avoid placing anything inside your ear. This will mess up the natural way your ears are cleaning themselves. It might not seem like a lot at first, but the results can be nothing short of staggering. You just need to remember that using earphones will be ok only if you need to use them for a few minutes at a time. Any prolonged use is going to cause damage, regardless of what headphones you use. Even the over-ear ones are a problem because they don’t allow your ears to breathe and that can also lead to bacteria buildup. So yes, ideally you want to use over-ear headphones, but don’t use them for hours and hours at a time.

Is too much ear wax bad for you?

Earwax is known to protect your ears. It’s a substance created from gland secretions and these will mix the trapped skin, normal skin bacteria, damaged skin and some times even hair. That earwax is protective. Normally ear wax will help protect your ears from trapped water. And what a lot of people don’t know about ear wax is that it has antifungal and antibacterial properties. 

Having a healthy amount of earwax is actually good for you since it can lower the risk of having ear infections. Problems like otitis media or otitis externa will not be an issue anymore if you are handling them by the book. Just try to take that into account and it will help more than you might imagine in a situation like this. 

What leads to having too much ear wax?

The ear wax build-up comes from a multitude of reasons. Even jaw movement will end up causing the earwax to be moved from the eardrum in the outer ear. This method is designed to make it easier for your body to generate and then move the earwax naturally and without issues. It works naturally and seamlessly, which means you shouldn’t interfere. If you do interfere, it can lead to many problems and that’s something to take into consideration.

Some of the reasons you have severe ear wax build-up would be trapped water, trauma, and obstructions. Things like soft tissue, skin sloughing and bones will obstruct the ear unnaturally. Also, the soft tissue narrowing or having lots of hair in the ear canal can be a problem. Even aging can lead to problems here. As we mentioned earlier, if you add earplugs, hearing aids or earbuds in your ear, that will be a problem and it’s something that you want to handle as fast as possible to avoid any possible issues.

Problems caused by having too much earwax

If you have too much earwax in your ear canal, that can be problematic. It can lead to earaches, hearing loss, itchiness in the ear, infections, the feeling that you have plugged ears and dizziness or reflexive cough. Sometimes this can also cause ceruminosis, vertigo, tinnitus, otitis externa and many others. All the little things can be problematic, which is why you want to tackle them in a proper and convenient manner every time. 

How to get rid of excess ear wax in your ears?

Having too much earwax is obviously not that helpful and you have to find a way to deal with the problem naturally if possible. Most of the time you need to avoid trying to remove it yourself if possible, and instead, go to a doctor. Most ear doctors will have a curved instrument named a curette. The curette can be used to remove any earwax naturally and without a problem. They can also use a suction system designed to help remove earwax.

Aside from that, they can also flush out the wax with the use of a rubber bulb syringe that has warm water. Even a water pick will work. However, if the problem is recurring the doctor might recommend you use carbamide peroxide or any other wax removal medication. The challenge here is that such drops might damage the eardrum skin a bit, so you should only use them when recommended. You also need to stick to the instructions and you will be good to go.

How to prevent ear wax in earbuds?

If you use earbuds, then you know that ear wax in earbuds is very common. The more you use them, the more wax will build up. The reality is that the only thing you can do here is to clean them often after each use. Wiping down the earwax will help a lot. Ideally you want to remove the cover that goes into your ear, that you can wash a bit if possible and clean it thoroughly. Sometimes the ear wax might end up accumulating into the earphone surface, so you have to clean themselves up as well. 

How to clean ear wax out of earbuds?

What you need for this is a few soft toothbrushes, some hydrogen peroxide and that’s it. Remove the ear tips, add them in soapy water and you can leave them in there for around half an hour or a bit more as needed. You will need to remove any of the additional wax or dirt from the ear tips and rinse them with clean water. 

When it comes to disinfecting everything, you want to add one of the toothbrushes in hydrogen peroxide, shake it to get rid of any extra substance and then you can hold the earbuds, keep the speaker forward. Brush in a single direction to avoid having dirt in the speaker itself. Then you can use clean water or hydrogen peroxide to wipe around the speakers.

Conclusion

One thing is certain, if you use earbuds often you can end up with ear wax buildup. But as you can see from this article, there are ways to deal with that. Ideally, you want to avoid using the earbuds for more than 10-20 minutes at once. And in order to prevent ear infections, you want to wash them as often as possible to avoid any possible problems. That wax accumulated inside the earbuds can lead to ear infections. On top of that, leave your ears to breathe and it will help more than you imagine.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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