OK, so you have just unwrapped a brand-new pair of headphones, and you are excited to try them out, but just about everyone in your household wants to have a go with them too! Do you share, or do you keep them to yourself?
After you have read this, you may never want to share your headphones with anyone else again!
If you are a generous, sharing sort of person, you probably won't mind letting people borrow your stuff – workmate lost their earbuds? Here, have mine! Does Brother want to borrow your new loud music headphones? Sure, here you go! However, you may want to think twice...
Why Sharing Headphones Is Gross
Wearing headphones increases the build-up of ear wax and although ear was is pretty harmless, it does contain a lot of bacteria.
When you cover your ear passageways for an extended length of time, whether that is through using earbuds or wearing earphones, you are blocking the exit point for your natural ear secretions. This means that wax builds up, moisture and heat cannot escape.
While you may think it is obvious that sharing earbuds isn't a good idea, sharing your headphones doesn't seem like such a big deal. Earbuds go into your ears, right? (yuk!), but headphones actually fit over your ears, so what's the problem?
Covering your ears with headphones creates a perfect environment for bacteria living in your ear wax to thrive and multiply. Despite earwax being relatively harmless, and a natural way for our body to expel germs and dust, it is not always the natural bacterial flora contained in our ears that is the problem.
We tend to throw our headphones around a lot and leave them on all sorts of different surfaces, carry them in sports bags, handbags and hand them out for people to borrow. This is where the risk of picking up nasty germs really comes in!
Headphone Sharing Research
According to research into headphone-wearing, the microbial flora found in the ear usually consists of pseudomonas, staphylococcus, and strep. Despite their scary-sounding names, many people carry these bacteria without suffering any ear infections or health issues.
It is only when this bacterial count starts to overload and overwhelm the body's tolerance, or natural coping threshold does problems arise. Also, issues occur when new external bacteria enters your ears that you can develop a severe ear infection. Studies show that wearing headphones can cause an 11-fold increase in bacteria.
External Bug Collections
However, the risks of developing an ear infection from wearing headphones don't necessarily come from the bacteria within the ear, but from your headphones becoming covered in germs from the surfaces you leave them on.
We tend to leave our headphones in all sorts of places, including the car, your desk drawer, sweaty sports bag and they can pick up germs from other people's fingers and skin they come into contact with.
Your headphones will inevitably pick up all sorts of stuff from the environment, especially after they have been worn for a while and start to build up a layer of sweat, ear wax and moisture. These films of dirt and dust can act as a layer that traps bacteria that will thrive and grow in the warm and moist atmosphere of your ear canal.
When you stop and think about just how much exposure to germs, dirt and bacteria your headphones get during the course of a day, and how many germs they can quickly transfer into your ears once you plonk them back on your head again – it's really scary, right?
Spreading The Risk
Before you agree to share your headphones, stop and think what else you could be sharing! When you decide to share your headphones, you are not only lending them your phones but also the germ-laden dirt and wax build-up they carry.
It doesn't even matter if you think that it's OK to share with your family members because you all share the same DNA, right? Actually - wrong. Even your own flesh and blood family will carry ear bacteria that is entirely unique to them as an individual.
And while you may be sharing your own personal brand or ear bacteria with your loved ones by letting them share your headphones, remember that you will also be getting back more than you bargained for in the form of their unique ear bacteria.
Just as doctors warn against sharing pens and phones and other shared equipment to prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses on their surfaces, the same can be said for sharing your headphones. You could inadvertently be spreading and sharing much more than the latest music releases to your family and friends by handing over your headphones.
Disinfecting Your Headphones Between Uses
By far the best way to keep the risks of ear infections down, apart from routine ear hygiene is to keep your headphones clean. Wiping over your headphones with a mild disinfectant is a great way to kill germs, but make sure you rub away any waxy residue and dirt build-up first because bacteria will still be trapped inside any residue left on the surface of your headphones.
You can use a cotton wool ball that has been dampened with either a disinfectant spray or you can buy rubbing alcohol quite cheaply and easily from most high street chemist shops.
Top of the range headphones can be very pricey, so a lot of bargain hunters will snap up a bargain on eBay by buying second-hand headphones at a much-reduced price than buying them new. Buying second-hand can be a great way to get the latest model headphones without suffering a significant hit to your wallet. But the same advice goes when picking up a bargain pair of used headphones – clean them thoroughly before you use them!
Second-hand headphones will most likely not have been cleaned before the sale, so they could have come right off the head of the previous owner, be grossly germ-laden, and go right over your ears without any sanitisation between users.
By far, the safest option to not spreading germs is not to share your headphones at all. However, if you don't want to come across as some sort of Grinch, it may be more comfortable all around if you keep your headphones clean with a daily disinfecting cleaning routine. Make it a regular habit and sharing your earphones or headphones should be fine without compromising on your hearing health (is that a thing - not sure but it has a good ring to it!)