Workouts and Wax

Do you love to be active?  Do you listen to music while you are pounding the pavement or sweating it out at the gym?  If you workout with Earbuds or AirPods, you might be interested to learn that they could be pushing ear wax deeper into your ear, causing a possible hearing loss. 

Earbuds, AirPods, and earphones are a popular choice when exercising.  They allow us to be active in many types of activities while providing motivation to push us further and achieve our goals.  They are tiny and light, easily fit into a pocket, and sit comfortably in our ears while exercising.  The newer wireless earphones are even more convenient than the traditional wired ones, allowing even more freedom while moving.    But, there is a downside.  They can also prevent your ear wax from coming out naturally which can both block your hearing and potentially cause ear infection.

Let’s have a look at the outer ear canal to understand how earbuds can affect the ears.  

The ear canal is the spot where you place your earbuds.  It is roughly 2.5 – 3cm long.  Wax is produced in the entrance of the canal, rather than the whole way along as is often believed. 

When we insert ear buds or anything into our ears, three things can happen.

  1. The natural migration of wax from the canal to the outside of the ear is hindered, because the ear buds keep pushing it back in.  This stops the wax from falling out.
  2. The wax gets pushed in deeper, compacting it.  Sound waves which are necessary for hearing, have difficulty reaching the eardrum, which can result in a slow decrease in hearing and potential discomfort, tinnitus and/or feelings of fullness in the ear.   As the build-up of wax happens slowly, it is quite common not to realise it is happening. 
  3. Your earbuds can become blocked with wax and won’t transmit sound past the wax and up to your brain.  Your earbuds won’t work as effectively as they should. 

“I sweat a lot, can I still wear my earbuds”? 

Having earbuds in your ears for long periods can on their own create a warm moist environment in the ear.  When you sweat, the canal becomes even warmer and moister as your body temperature increases.  The canal can become the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, increasing your risk of outer ear infection.  

It is a good idea to remove your earbuds as soon as you have finished exercising and give them a clean.  After your shower, dry your ears with a hairdryer on a cool setting 30cm away from the ear, or twist the corner of a tissue into a narrow wick and insert into the ear for a few minutes to soak up any residual moisture.

What we recommend: 

  • Don’t leave your ear buds in for more than 1 hour at a time. Your ears need circulating air to keep them healthy. 
  • Clean your ear buds after each workout.  Check the manufacturer’s instructions but it is usually fine to wipe them with a cloth, slightly dampened with fresh water and dry with a soft dry, lint-free cloth.   
  • Allow the earbuds to dry completely before returning them to their charging case or cover. 
  • After showering or swimming, dry your ears properly, either with a hairdryer from 30cm away, or a tissue wick.  
  • Consider over-the-ear headphones instead. This will allow the wax to move outwards.
  • Have your ears assessed and cleaned by our Nurses at Crystal Clear Ears once or twice a year to have any wax and debris removed.  

Then you too can “Hear the Difference”

 March 2020

 Cindy Morris 

 Nurse Educator