Few things puncture the soul like heading off on the commute to work only to find down the train line that you left your headphones at home. It is tortuous. Suddenly what might have been a 40 minute commute listening to the latest true crime podcast or a carefully curated playlist is a real world dose. There’s the guy yelling on the phone line as he conducts an entire conversation in public, the woman munching her granola to your left, and those school kids whose terminology only serves to reinforce that yes, you’re old. . Forgetting your headphones is torture and for the most part, having them plugged into our ears at the office or at home is what passes the day.
But if you’ve ever plugged in for a few hours of listening to podcast or music while blocking out all external noise, you may have noticed that your ears are a little more sticky or waxy. The research on wireless headphones may not be particularly in-depth, but there are correlations between the tech accessory and similar mechanisms, namely that of hearing aids. Researchers were able to use studies on the latter to suggest that prolonged use of in-ear devices like wireless headphones can cause earwax problems.
It goes without saying that we all have earwax. Earwax production occurs in humans and many other mammals and is normal because it serves as a sort of protective secretion. Produced in the outer part of the ear canal, it is created by secretions from the sebaceous and sweat glands released by the hair follicles, which then trap dust, bacteria, fungi, hair and dead skin cells. to form the wax. By moistening the skin of the external auditory canal, it prevents infections and provides a barrier for insects, bacteria and water.
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If earwax is normal and a good thing though, what’s the problem with wireless headphones? It turns out that anything that blocks the normal progression of earwax outward can cause problems. Researchers believe that normal use of in-ear devices is not often a problem, but prolonged use of headphones could have a significant impact. Problems include compressing the earwax and making it less fluid and more difficult for the body to expel naturally; impacting airflow and preventing wet earwax from drying out; trapping sweat and moisture in the ears before making them more prone to bacterial and fungal infections; and create a barrier to the natural expulsion of earwax, which ultimately stimulates the secretory glands and increases the production of earwax. In the worst-case scenarios where the buildup builds up, excess earwax can cause hearing problems and other symptoms such as pain, dizziness, tinnitus, and vertigo.
So what is the solution then? What about those long days at the office where you just need to drown out the incessant breathing and chewing noises of your coworkers? Or when international travel comes back and there’s a toddler on board crying bloody murder, then how can we buzz the noise for a long-haul flight? Researchers suggest switching to over-the-ear headphones, which are less likely to cause earwax compaction or introduce bacteria or pathogens into the ear canal. Basically you gotta let your ears guys breathe.