Can Headphones Cause Ear Wax?

Crusty bits on your headphones? You may be wondering if headphones cause ear wax. Find out everything you need to know here!

Man putting headphones on

So, after using your headphones all day, you noticed that your ears are waxy and damp. Even though the presence of ear wax is not that alarming, you wanted to find out if that’s okay. Where did that extra ear wax come from? Can headphones cause ear wax?

Headphones and earbuds can contribute to ear wax build-up. These devices shut off airflow in the ears. Ears are able to clean themselves but only if there’s airflow. Since headphones block air in the ears, they can cause ear wax.

It’s as simple as that but there are more things you may want to know about. Keep reading.

Why Do Headphones Increase Ear Wax Build Up?

First, we’ll need to explain a couple of things about ear wax. The instinctive reaction to touching or seeing ear wax is to turn your eyes in disgust. And I understand why that is, ear wax is nasty. That aside, ear wax is actually really helpful and it serves an important purpose.

Why Do Ears Have Wax?

Ear wax has a strictly protective function. The thing is, the ear is pretty sensitive. It is prone to infections. Also, it has tiny hairs and dirt that may damage the eardrum. Ear wax protects the ear from all this stuff.

The skin glands in the ear produce ear wax. Dirt, and anything else that may damage the ear sticks to the wax. That’s how ear wax manages to protect the ears. It catches anything dangerous that may enter the ear, and it keeps it outside the eardrum.

While the presence of bits of ear wax is usually a good sign, too much ear wax can be a bad thing. Usually, an excess of ear wax affects your hearing. You won’t be able to hear as well. Also, this can lead to further infection if left untreated.

Man removing ear wax with q-tip

Ear Wax Build Up From Headphones

Now, you may be wondering: But how do headphones attribute to ear wax buildup if the ear secretes wax on its own? Well, we already explained this shortly in the beginning. Let’s explain this thoroughly.

So, we’ve said that the ear produces wax when there’s bacteria or dirt in the ear. The ear wax traps that bacteria. We’ve also said that headphones shut off airflow in the ear and make it damp. That’s just it.

When there’s no airflow in the ear, it’s the perfect environment for bacteria and infections. The more you use your headphone, the more the ear becomes moist and dark. The ear notices that there’s more dirt and bacteria than usual so it secretes more ear wax than usual. And that’s why headphones attribute to ear wax build-up.

To sum up, headphones increase ear wax build-up because they block air from entering the ear. That makes the ear damp which leads to bacteria hatching. The ear produces wax to catch and clean all that bacteria.

Q-tips on blue background

Should I Be Worried About Ear Wax Build Up

Does this mean that you need to avoid headphones? Of course, no.

Complications from ear wax are really rare. Most likely, if things get really bad, you’ll not be able to hear as well. The ear wax can block out the sounds. But that doesn’t mean that it’s irreversible hearing loss. Or, that your eardrum is damaged. After removing the excess ear wax, you’ll be able to hear just fine.

Keep in mind though, that you’ll need to be using your headphones for quite some time without breaks for the ear wax to build up. People that use headphones only for an hour or two a day, usually don’t have problems with ear wax. Besides, the usual ear wax, of course.

Don’t try to take out the ear wax with cotton swabs. This is really important. Experts advise on just using your finger around your earlobe. Or, the towel after showering. Cotton swabs can make things worse by pushing the wax deeper inside.

Can Earbuds Cause Ear Wax?

Earbuds are worse than headphones when it comes to ear wax build-up. In general, headphones are better for your ears. Earbuds are closer to the eardrum, it’s easier to damage it from loud music.

It’s the same effect. Earbuds block the airflow in the ear. With headphones, the ear can breathe a little. They are placed around the ear, so the blockage is not that tight. Earbuds, however, are placed in the ear lobe. IEMs are close to the eardrum. Again, because the ear becomes damp, bacteria and dirt attract, so the wax is produced. Earbuds just close off the ear more.

Not everyone gets ear wax because of earbuds. Just those that are using the earbuds too much. Same as with headphones, one to two hours of listening won’t increase ear wax build-up.

Interesting read – What Is The Difference Between IEMs And Normal Earbuds?

Earbuds close up on blue background

How To Avoid Getting Ear Wax From Headphones

Believe it or not, there’s not much you can do. Besides, limiting your listening periods. There’s no additional equipment you can buy that will stop ear wax secretion. And, earbuds don’t have an anti-ear wax design. So, what can you do?

  1. Take breaks after an hour of listening. 
    The smartest thing to do is follow a simple rule. After an hour of using your headphones, take a break for half an hour. This will let the ear clean up by itself. Either way, you should always follow this rule, it’s the advised time period. It will also prevent any damage to the ear from loud sounds. In general, just don’t use your headphones too much. Some people are less sensitive, they can use headphones more. Some are less sensitive. So, figure out what works for you.
  2. Clean your headphones.
    It’s also a good idea to clean your headphones now and then. Depending on where you store your headphones, they can pick up a lot of dust. When you put the dirty headphones on your ears, the wax will secrete more.
  3. Use headphones instead of earbuds.
    If your job requires using headphones or earbuds for most of the day, opt for headphones. The regular user that can follow the first rule can choose either device. But if your ears are really sensitive and you must use some of these two devices, use headphones.

And that’s it. Yes, headphones can increase ear wax build-up. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be fine.

Interesting read – Can Headphones Cause Hair Loss?