Headphone Ear Infection: Fact or Fiction Behind This Belief

Your headphones remain stuck to your ears as your daily routine most of the time. But, after a while, you begin feeling an itching sensation in your ears. Even as you attempt to pay attention, the itching only becomes serious. You eventually give up ignoring and scratch. This scratching goes on and on, only for you to later discover your ear is moist and has an uncomfortable smell. 

Yet you still can’t figure out what is happening to you. Please take a moment to read through this article in which we provide all you need to know about headphones-caused ear infections.

Your first suspicion should be your headphones if you are a smart person.

 So, is it possible for headphones to induce ear infections? Your suspicion is true. You might be wondering if you should completely avoid using headphones or earbuds. If you do, you’ll have to say goodbye to your privacy of listening to music, podcasts, and more, most importantly, to your job. 

Can over-the-ear headphones cause ear infections?

When used incorrectly, headphones can cause ear infections. However, this does not suggest that you get rid of your headphones. It would be unfair advice to those whose livelihood depends on headphones. In one study involving hundreds of persons, the study found only about three with serious ear infections; in the middle ear.

 Although the number represented in the study seems low, another study involving bacterial load in the ear realized that the more frequent the use of headphones, the more the bacterial number multiplied. And this is why; when headphones block the ears, they promote bacterial growth and cause moisture within the ear to stagnate. There is always bacteria present in the ear.

 Their presence does not necessarily mean there is an infection. However, when the management of bacteria becomes poor, and their number isn’t balanced, the two situations will contribute to the ear problem.

From the above account, none of the studies suggest staying away from the device, which rightly concludes the problem is their usage. This conclusion takes us to our next topic.

How do headphones cause ear infections? 

You must be wondering how exactly headphones can facilitate ear infections. We have got you covered. Below, we offer an explanation that handles your worry.

Moisture and bacteria.

The inside of your ears is dark and wet, two characteristics of the environment that germs like to strive in. Darkness protects them from the sun’s germ-killing UV rays, whereas dampness makes ears a breeding environment for bacteria. This combination creates a perfect storm for a hazardous bacterium epidemic to spread swiftly. Unfortunately, listening to music with headphones stimulates these two issues.

Studies have demonstrated a direct correlation between poor earphone use and bacterial growth, as previously noted. Alterations cause this in in-ear moisture flow and microorganisms’ entry from the outside via earphones. The frequent use of tightly sealed headphones for an extended period seals off the ear canal from the outside world.

 As a result, fluid that should evaporate condenses in the ears rather than evaporating. Bacteria in your ear canal from your headphones may make this environment extremely tolerant, resulting in infection.

 A variety of microorganisms cause ear infections. Beneficial bacteria are also found in healthy ears, with some bacteria even blocking the growth of infectious bacteria. However, repeated exposure to or growth of dangerous bacteria may shift the balance, allowing harmful bacteria to outnumber helpful bacteria.

Which other health problems are related to Headphone Usage?

In addition to ear infections, poor use of headphones can lead to a slew of other issues. Unfortunately, some are irreversible and can worsen if they occur simultaneously as your headphones-related ear infection.

The following are the most common health problems induced by improper headphone use:

  • Deafness and hearing loss.

It is no longer news to hear that loud music can harm your ears and cause hearing loss. According to health experts, regular exposure to loud sounds, especially through headphones, can develop tinnitus ( a ringing in the ear that you can hear even in quiet environments) and hyperacusis.

Prolong exposure to loud noises causes this ringing noise. Hyperacusis is a disorder in which people are hypersensitive to specific sounds. While the specific etiology is uncertain, the illness links tinnitus, hearing loss, loud noise exposure, and frequent ear infections.

  • Earache.

Ear discomfort is frequently linked to ear infections; however, not all ear pain is caused by an infection. Excessive use of headphones, according to research, might cause pain. Ill-fitting or too-tight headphones might strain the outer ear’s fragile flesh or overstretch the sensitive inner-ear cartilage.

How can you prevent ear infections caused by headphones usage?

Following a few common-sense habits can greatly minimize our risk of developing an infection. In the case of headphones, you can take the following measures.

  1. Always clean headphones.

Cleaning and sanitizing headphones can help prevent ear infections. It is advised that this be done weekly or whenever you notice earwax build-up on headphones.

2. Always clean your ears.

 While your ears can clean themselves, cleaning is required if you have an earwax backup. The backed-up wax will start to grow bacteria and trap moisture.

Experts advocate wiping the outside of your ears with a moist towel at the most basic level.

3. Never lend your headphones or earbuds to anyone else.

It is common to see people interchange headphones without cleaning them, this can be seen as a good idea, but it’s also dangerous. When this happens, bacteria from your ear is picked up and easily transmitted to your partner.

However, if you must share headphones such at school or your job site, here are some basics to help you:

  • Make use of disposable headphone coverings.
  • Clean before use.
  • Make sure that everyone with whom you use headphones replaces ear cushions regularly.
  • Maintain your ear-cleaning habit.


The answer to the burning issue, “Can headphones cause ear infections?” is a resounding yes. Whether clean or dirty, headphones can cause serious ear infections if you use them improperly. Also, dirty headphones can easily transfer bacteria from one user to another if you don’t observe the recommended hygienic conditions. 

With the knowledge you have gained here, you will start watching how frequently you use your headphones, at what volume, how long, and always keep your headphones clean.

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