They are a fashionable and convenient way take phone calls or listen to music.
But in-ear headphones, known as ‘earbuds’, can increase the number of bacteria in the ear by 700 times, experts have warned.
The devices can also worsen wax build-up by preventing it from dispersing properly, by forming a ‘stopper’ in the ear. This raises the risk of hearing loss and tinnitus, which causes a persistent ringing sound in the ear.
And the bacteria they spread can lead to ‘swimmer’s ear’ – a condition which causes swelling, irritation and jaw pain.
The warnings come from charity Action on Hearing Loss and GP Dr Roger Henderson. Dr Henderson said: ‘In-ear headphones can act as a “stopper”, preventing the wax from dispelling naturally. Likewise in just one hour of wearing bud headphones, the number of bacteria in the ear increases by 700 times.’
The warning echoes research, including a 2008 study from Manipal University in India, which found significant bacteria growth in the ears of people who used earphones.
Gemma Twitchen, senior audiologist at Action on Hearing Loss, said: ‘In-ear headphones are small and can push wax into your ears further and prevent the wax from coming out naturally.’
Wax causes the most common form of temporary hearing loss, she said. ‘If you’re prone to build-up of wax you may want to avoid using in-the-ear headphones,’ she added. Hearing loss is experienced by around half of people. Wax build-up can also cause tinnitus, experienced by 25 %, and vertigo, which affects around 15 %.