Sales of wireless earphones are booming, with Apple alone selling an estimated 100 million sets of AirPods by 2020. Being disconnected from our phones or devices means we are likely to wear earphones for extended periods of time.
As a result, you may notice that your ears feel more sticky or waxy. Is this common? And what happens to our ears when we wear earphones?
Although wireless earphones are fairly new to the market, there is a large amount of research examining the long-term use of hearing aids, which in many cases have a similar mechanism. From this study, it appears that prolonged use of in-ear devices can cause problems with earwax.
Read more: Do your children use more headphones during the pandemic? How to protect their ears
What does earwax do?
The production of earwax (also known as cerumen) is a normal process in humans and many other mammals. There should always be a thin coating of wax near the opening of the ear canal.
This wax is a waterproof and protective secretion. This acts to moisturize the skin of the outer ear canal and acts as a protective mechanism to prevent infection, providing a barrier to insects, bacteria and water. Wet earwax is brown and sticky, whereas the dry type is more of a white color.
In fact, earwax is such a big barrier, in the 1800s there were reports that it was used as an effective conditioner for chapped lips!
Earwax is a naturally occurring substance that is produced in the outer part of the ear canal. It is created by the secretion of oil glands and sweat glands released by the hair follicles, which then trap dust, bacteria, fungi, hair and dead skin cells to form the wax.
The outer ear canal can be considered as an escalator, where the adult always moves towards the outside and prevents the ears from being filled with dead skin cells.
This migration of earwax is also supported by natural jaw movements. When the earwax reaches the end of the ear, it simply falls out.
Read more: Curious children: how crusts are formed?
How Earphones Can Affect This System
The ear is self-cleansing and performs its function best without interruption. However, anything that blocks the normal development of earwax that moves outside can cause problems.
Normal use of in-ear devices does not often cause a problem. But prolonged use of earphones, e.g. If you leave them on all day, you can:
- compress the earwax, making it less fluid and harder for the body to expel naturally
- compress the earwax to the extent that the body causes inflammation. This results in white blood cells migrating to the area, increasing the number of cells in the blockage
- affect airflow and stop wet earwax from drying out. When earwax retains its stickiness for a long time, it encourages buildup
- traps sweat and moisture in the ears, making them more prone to bacterial and fungal infections
- create a barrier to the natural expulsion of earwax, which ends up stimulating secretory glands and increasing earwax production
- reduce total ear hygiene if the earplug pads are not properly cleaned or contaminated with bacteria or infectious agents;
- damage your hearing if the volume is set too high.
If the buildup accumulates, excessive earwax can cause hearing problems along with other symptoms such as pain, dizziness, tinnitus, itching and dizziness.
If you need to listen for a long time, using over-earphones can help a little. These offer a small amount of extra airflow compared to the earphones and earphones. However, this is not as good as leaving the ears open to the air from outside, and there may still be an accumulation of earwax.
When seated outside the ear canal, over-earphones are also less likely to cause earwax compression or introduce bacteria or pathogens into the ear canal.
Read more: Health check: is it bad to sleep regularly wearing earplugs?
Nothing less than your elbow
In most cases, the best way to control earwax is to leave it alone. It is not recommended to use cotton swabs often as this can force earwax back into the ear canal. The long-standing advice is not to put anything smaller than the elbow in the ear – in other words, do not put anything in there!
Some traditional methods, such as olive oil drops or ear candles, can also have negative effects and are not helpful.
If you have earwax or associated hearing problems, your doctor will have a range of treatment options to help, and it may also refer you to the appropriate health service if it requires prolonged treatment.
Initially, they will look into your ear with a special instrument (otoscope) and see the extent of blockage or dysfunction.
Meanwhile, the ear has an amazing self-cleansing process and we should do our best to let this occur naturally. In most cases, earphones are fine, but it can still be helpful to pay attention to how much time you spend wearing them. Finally, always make sure to keep the volume at a safe level.