Burning Question: Should You Share Earbuds?
|Author: Caylan Shaw|
Date: Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
|Return to Archive|
Burning Question: Should You Share Earbuds?
One expert's advice on keeping bacteria from spreading
By: Heidi Mitchell
April 7, 2014 6:26 p.m. ET
Teens love to share music, and that often involves sharing earbuds. Does it also mean sharing germs and disease? One expert, Lisa Sturm, director of Infection Control and Epidemiology at the University of Michigan Health System, offers advice on keeping bacteria from spreading.
"The hot, humid air trapped in your ear canal while wearing earbuds is a great environment for bacteria to thrive," says Ms. Sturm. Some bacteria, like MRSA, a type of Staphylococcus that resists treatment with antibiotics, can live up to a week on an inanimate object without a host, she says. That said, although earbuds are capable of transferring germs, that doesn't necessarily bring disease. The ear canal is good at carrying sound but not so good at letting foreign substances, like pathogens, into the body.
So while a person could potentially transfer MRSA, pseudomonas, streptococcus or other infectious illnesses by sharing earbuds, "unless you are immunosuppressed from something like chemotherapy, diabetes or a transplant, the risk of getting a disease from using someone else's earbuds is very low," she says.
Earbuds with fine wire mesh can pick up bacteria from an open wound—a shaving nick or an infection, for example–and keep it protected for days or even a week, since it's very hard to clean between the wires.
Molded plastic versions may be better at picking up wax, which could also keep bacteria cozy. Those pathogens can then transfer to any part of the body where there is a skin break "even your hands," says Ms. Sturm. But the chance of that happening isn't any higher than something else people use close to their ears, like a cellphone.
Ditching earbuds for headphones could present other problems, she says. "One of the favorite places for lice to live is in the hairline behind the ears," says Ms. Sturm. "And those little white nits are very sticky and could easily attach onto the foam headphones where you wouldn't see them."
A 2008 study in India found that among frequent users of earbuds, bacterial growth was significantly higher in the ears and on the earbuds, compared with people who used the devices infrequently. The study, which involved 50 medical students, suggested that earbud sharing could transfer bacteria to another person. Still, Ms. Sturm says, "that study did not look at infections, just the presence of bacteria—which our bodies are covered in."
Earbuds should be cleaned "on some type of routine basis," Ms. Sturm says. If there is anything visible on an earbud, wipe it with a disinfectant "or hit it with a cotton ball soaked in isopropyl alcohol," she says.
She uses a similar technique at home on her son's earbuds, which she finds on the floor and even being played with by the cat. "Those pads will kill just about any bacteria, and the alcohol is very fast-drying so my son can pop the earbuds back in his ear in seconds," she says.
And if you have a sore in your ear, don't share earbuds. Ms. Sturm says her son doesn't share his earbuds, though he says all his friends do. But his mom isn't worried. "Most kids are pretty immune to normal bacteria out there, otherwise they'd be getting sick all the time," she says.
—Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
- All Categories
- Academic Outreach
- Continuing & Professional Development
- Distance Learning
- Summer Sessions
- Winter Term
- Career & Workforce Development
- Lifelong Learning
- Society for Lifelong Learning
- WKU On Demand
- Study Away
- Faculty-Led Study Abroad
- Center for Faculty Development
- Cohort Programs
- Dual Credit
- Event & Training Services
- All Categories
- March 2016 ICYMI
- CHHS October 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS November 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS December 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS January 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS February 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS March 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS April 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS May 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS June 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS July 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS August 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS September 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS October 2012 E-Newsletter
- April 2016 ICYMI
- CHHS November 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS December 2012 E-Newsletter
- CHHS January 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS February 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS March 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS April 2013 E-Newsletter
- JUNE 2016 ICYMI
- CHHS May/June 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS July 2013 E-Newsletter
- Archived CHHS News
- CHHS October 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS November 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS December 2013 E-Newsletter
- CHHS February 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS November 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS May 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS April 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS June 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS July 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS December 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS August 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS September 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS October 2014 E-Newsletter
- CHHS January 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS February 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS May 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS July 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS August 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS September 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS November 2015 E-Newsletter
- CHHS October 2015 E-Newsletter
- December 2015 ICYMI
- January 2016 ICYMI
- MAY 2016 ICYMI
- February 2016 ICYMI
- CHHS July 2016 E-Newsletter
- CHHS August 2016 E-Newsletter
- CHHS September 2016 E-Newsletter
- CHHS October 2016 E-Newsletter
- CHHS November 2016 E-Newsletter
- CHHS December 2016 E-Newsletter
- CHHS January 2017 E-Newsletter
- CHHS February 2017 E-Newsletter
- CHHS March 2017 E-Newsletter
- CHHS September 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS August 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS July 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS June 2011 E-Newsletter
- CHHS May 2011 E-Newsletter
The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky has selected 95 Kentucky sophomores for the Class of 2019.
Sixty-five students showcased their knowledge of Chinese language and culture during the Confucius Institute at WKU’s inaugural Chinese Bridge Competition on March 25.
The WKU Small Business Accelerator continued its collaboration with the Central Region Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network to host its quarterly Focus on Innovation small group discussion on March 28.
Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher to view,
download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Note: documents in Excel format (XLS) require Microsoft Viewer,
Note: documents in Word format (DOC) require Microsoft Viewer,
Note: documents in Powerpoint format (PPT) require Microsoft Viewer,
Note: documents in Quicktime Movie format [MOV] require Apple Quicktime,