By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You see people wearing earbuds everywhere. They’re certainly convenient, but doctors warn they can also increase the risk of ear infections.

Wireless earbuds make 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,” Lenox Hill Hospital Dr. Darius Kohan said. “It’s not a natural condition for the ear to have hours of things sticking in it.”

Doctors say using earbuds for hours on end can irritate sensitive skin, obstruct the ear canal and create a buildup 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.

Since buying his AirPods about a year ago, Mike Wendle says he typically uses them for four to five hours a day.

“Music when I’m at the gym, just whenever I have downtime when I’m not in front of customers 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, I’ll make that change. But right now, it’s working just fine.”

Many other earbud users agree.

“If you’re sanitary about it, you shouldn’t have to be,” Viviana Aguilar said.

“I do clean it also,” Varsha Singh said.

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,” Kohan said. “If it doesn’t go away for a long time, see your doctor.”

While keeping both your skin and earbuds clean is crucial, Kohan says the only real surefire way to prevent an infection is to use headphones that go over your ears.

Stephanie Stahl

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