Do Headphones/Earbuds Cause Earwax Buildup?

by Alex.   Last Updated On April 23rd, 2022.
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If you’re a gamer or working from home, then you probably spend most of your time with headphones on (earbuds too, we don’t discriminate.) In my situation, I use headphones when I’m working on the computer and switch over to my TWS earbuds whenever I’m away from my desk.

You might also have a similar situation where you’re constantly listening to podcasts, music, lectures, or work-related stuff. Because of this, headphones have become an essential part of our daily lives. However, we have failed to realize the impact these headphones can have on our health.

One of these realizations is how headphones affect earwax buildup in our ears. Depending on the person and what audio device they use, earwax buildup can be a minor annoyance or a major medical concern. Therefore, being educated about its impact and how to minimize earwax buildup is paramount.

So do headphones and earbuds contribute to earwax buildup? The answer is: Yes, they do cause earwax buildup, but it depends on the device and how good you take care of your ears.

So, taking care of yourself is necessary, and in the following sections, we are going to dig deeper (not using a cotton swab) into several topics as

  • Why do we have earwax, and how does it form?
  • Headphones VS Earbuds, what’s better for your health?
  • How to take better care of your ears?

So clean your ears and put on your headphones because we are going to gather some “knowledge.”

Table of Contents
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Why do we have earwax, and how does it form?

For some people, earwax might be an “icky” subject, but we have to talk about it if we need to take care of our ears while wearing headphones.

Having a lot of earwax is not that big of an issue. It’s very normal to have earwax, and it helps keep your ears healthy.

There are special glands inside your ears that secrete and produce earwax. Earwax traps unwanted particles and debris, provide lubrication, prevents infections, and deter insects. Therefore, having earwax inside your ears is not a reason to alarm ourselves.

Ears need to be free and open to allow the earwax to carry dirt and other small unwanted particles outside. When the ears are blocked with headphones or earbuds, the ears are closed off and, because of this, earwax builds up inside – with nowhere to go – and it can become a breeding ground for Bacteria and Fungi.

Earwax falls out of our ears with time. Whenever we are using our jaw to talk or chew, the motion provided by the jaws allows our ears to push earwax out of the ears. This process is disturbed whenever you use earbuds.

Headphones VS Earbuds

Whether it’s Rayconn or Airpods, Bose headphones, or HyperX headsets, both types of devices – headphones and earbuds — are not the most ideal when it comes to listening to audio.

If we are to worry too much about earwax buildup and our health, in a perfect world, everyone would be using speakers (also see solar Bluetooth speakers here) to listen to music/podcasts because that’s the only device we can use without “harming” our ears.

So we cannot opt for speakers, and we will have to use either headphones or earbuds. So in this section, let’s compare how each affects earwax buildup, spoiler alert: headphones are somewhat better.

Earbuds: Although they take up a smaller form factor, earbuds are way more harmful than headphones. Whenever you push earbuds inside your ears, they tend to scrape any earwax and push them further inside. This is one of the more common reasons why earwax gets accumulated inside our ears. On top of that, if we keep wearing earbuds for longer periods, this earwax has nowhere to go, and hence it becomes a breeding ground for Bacteria and Fungi.

Headphones: Headphones are somewhat “okay” because they don’t push deep inside your ears. Unfortunately, headphones come with their own problems as well. Whenever you are wearing in-ear or over-ear headphones, you are blocking the ears from getting enough airflow, and because of this, Bacteria and Fungi can start to flourish.

So headphones and earbuds have their own set of issues, but in this case, headphones are a safer bet.

How To Take Better Care of Your Ears?

Building up earwax inside your ears is not something you want to be doing. For most people, as long as they follow common sense and maintain a reasonable amount of good hygiene, they won’t have to face issues down the road.

Since prevention is better than cure, I’m going to list out several practices that you can follow to keep your ears clean and avoid accumulating a bulk of earwax inside.

Switching over to headphones: Unfortunately, this is a win for the big guys. Switching over to headphones will allow you to experience a better sound quality without blocking your ears with smaller earbuds. However, make sure you buy a high-quality pair that provides some form of airflow into your ears.

Clean the headphones regularly: It might not be the most practical solution to clean your headphones every time you put them on. However, you don’t have to do it very frequently. I recommend that you clean out your headphones/earbuds at least once a day. Brush off the earwax after it has dried up, and then sanitize the surface with an alcohol wipe.

cleaning, disinfecting, wiping music headphones with a hand in glove and napkin close up

Free your ears: Give your ears some room to breathe from time to time. If you can focus in a fairly-silent environment without listening to music, then you don’t have to provide “free real estate” to those Tozo earbuds, sitting inside your ears. Pop them inside the case and let your ears breathe.

This is not health advice and, these are merely common prevention strategies that anybody can follow. However, if you have any pain in your ears, feeling dizzy or full inside your ears contact a doctor immediately, do not try to dig your ears with a cotton swab.

In this article, we learned about how earwax forms and how it can become an issue if you are not careful. Therefore to hammer this point home: Earbuds definitely contribute the most when it comes to earwax buildup, so if you are worried about it, the best thing you can do is switch over to headphones, take proper breaks when using these devices, clean your ears regularly and let them (earwax) fall out naturally. 

Conclusion

Earwax buildup is a very common issue. Although most people get by without any major infections or diseases, it is always better to maintain proper hygiene. Switching over to headphones helps mitigate this, but headphones are not perfect. It can get a little toasty inside with headphones on, so make sure to take regular breaks and free your ears every now and then.