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Earbuds And The Health Risks Related To Their Long-Term Usage

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Earbuds are everywhere these days, helping connect people to a world of music, news, podcasts, and even morning workouts -- but they're also spawning a concerning wave of ear infections.

If earbuds are left in too long, it can lead to health problems.

Dr. Philip Perez, an ear specialist at UPMC says infections could become common in the ear canal.

"You know, it's not an uncommon issue and it does does come through our clinic from time to time," Dr. Perez said.

Infections caused by earbuds don't necessarily happen instantly, and occur particularly involving long use or frequent use.

Dr. Paul Scolieri, an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist in the South Hills says it's like putting a cork in your ear.

"They do cause blockage of the ear canal. They are going to keep your ear wax from leaking out, so with prolonged use, you can have ear wax built up over time," Dr. Scolieri said.

"Ear infections are more common when there's a dark, moist environment. So objects like earbuds or hearing aids tend to block off the normal ear airflow that comes into the ear," Dr. Perez said.

When adding in sweating while using earbuds at the gym or while working out, a moist ear canal is going add to the highest risk for infection.

Doctors say that the first sign of trouble is pain, which can then lead to drainage or swelling.

Doctors also say it's important to let your ears breathe, but understand that some people do need to use earbuds for their jobs.

"Take a break when you can, in part to give the ear canal, and to break the pressure and put some air in," Dr. Perez said.

While Dr. Scolieri says the ear is pretty durable, he says that permanent damage can be done that's not going to be recoverable.

Medications can help with infections, but when it comes to the damage that earbuds can cause involving hearing loss, doctors are also weighing in on that topic.

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Earbuds can be used to overcome other noises like snowblowers or lawnmowers, and Dr. Scolieri says you need to have a limit when it comes to the time spent using them.

"If it's 90 decibels, like the sound of a lawnmower, then keep it to under two hours," Dr. Scolieri said.

For people who are using earbuds at the gym where the music is already playing in the background, they have a tendency to turn the volume higher and higher to hear what they want.

What seems clear to ear experts is that without moderation, every current generation is heading for hearing trouble.

"It's really going to be decades down the line. So more issues with hearing and some of the residual effects of that permanent hearing that we think is from the volume being turned up to loudly," said Dr. Perez.

A young person's hearing is capable of some recovery, but the only problem is there's no way to define the line where one can go from possibly recovering to being permanently damaged.

It's better to not sleep in earbuds, so that you can allow air to get into the ears, but if you do choose to do that, Dr. Scolieri says to try and limit the time to no longer than 8 hours.

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