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Doctor Warns Of Infection Dangers Associated With Repeated Wireless Headphone Use

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Since their debut, wireless headphones have skyrocketed in popularity. It's hard to walk down the streets of Manhattan and not see any.

But keep them in for too long, and you could be paying the price. As CBS2's Ali Bauman found out Thursday, elongated use can cause a painful infection.

Wireless earbuds have made listening to music, talking on the phone, and even taking meetings on the go more convenient. But too much use and you could be feeling the pain.

"The ear is not really meant to be constantly clogged," said Dr. Darius Kohan, the director of otology/neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital. "It's not a natural condition for the ear to have hours of things sticking in it."

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Apple AirPods
An attendee wears an Apple AirPods during a launch event on September 7, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Apple Inc. unveiled the latest iterations of its smart phone, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the Apple Watch Series 2, as well as AirPods, the tech giant\'s first wireless headphones. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

Kohan said using earbuds for hours on end can irritate sensitive skin, obstruct the ear canal, and create a build-up of wax. As a result, many people can develop painful infections.

"They're putting in an earbud over here, they're pushing against this to hear better," Kohan said. "By irritating the skin, by having something constantly against it for hours on end and pushing the wax deeper in the canal, you're constantly irritating the ear."

Then when mixed with water from a shower or pool the wax swells up and becomes a breeding ground for germs.

However, some earbud users aren't so concerned. Since buying his AirPods about a year ago, Mike Wendle said he typically uses them for four to five hours a day.

"Music when I'm at the gym, just like whenever I have downtime. When I'm not in front of customers, pretty much I have them in," Wendle said. "The ease of these things is so great that I'll take that risk. If it happens to me maybe I'll make that change, but for now it's working just fine."

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Viviana Aguilar and Varsha Singh said they clean theirs regularly, making sure not to put them down on hard surfaces where they can collect bacteria. They said they take these steps so they don't have to be worried about infections.

"If you're sanitary about it you shouldn't have to be," Aguilar said.

"I do clean it often also," Singh added.

Kohan didn't offer any specific time limits to earbud use, just to use your judgment.

"As soon as you get any discomfort, if you've been using it for a long time, take them out. If it doesn't go away quickly, see your doctor," he said.

And while keeping both your skin and earbuds clean is crucial, he said the only real surefire way to prevent an infection is to use headphones that go over your ears.

Kohan said children are at greater risk, because their ear canals are naturally narrower and smaller and more likely to get infections.

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