Does Wearing Headphones Increase the Amount of Bacteria in your Ears? Asked by Ahmed from Surrey

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headset. earphonesHi Ahmed, how’s it going?

So, the short answer to your question is that anything you put in your ear will increase the bacteria levels present, simply by sheer dint of the introduction of a foreign object to your ear. You can consider this to also be true for cotton buds, earplugs and, of course, your index finger. Microorganisms tend to reproduce well in hot and humid environments and the ear, like the mouth and nose, certainly have all the right conditions for a germ-orgy of sorts (sorry for the image).

It has been said that using headphones increases the bacteria levels in your ears over 700 times.

To whatever degree this somewhat alarming statistic is true or false is, quite frankly, virtually impossible to determine. Put simply, there are just too many variables in the equation. Issues arise like ‘how many other people have used the headphones (are they shared devices like audio museum tours)?’ ‘How much bacteria is in the average person’s ear in the first place?’ or even ‘where are the headphones stored when not in use?’

All of these questions (and many, many more) would need satisfactory answers before we could start picking our way toward a definitive answer. According to our old friend Cecil Adams of, the ‘700 times’ factoid has its origins in a 1992 study in which experts measured bacteria found on 20 headsets of the type used by commercial airlines. According to Adams, the amount of microorganisms present on the ‘phones increased by 11 times, not 700 (as is often reported). A year later, the New York Times ran an article that is, according to Adams, the root of the old ‘700 times’ bit.

However, it should also be said that many different kinds of bacteria are vital to living organisms like us and, at any given time, there is an almost indescribably huge level of bacteria operating in your body. Yes, there is an increase in your in-ear bacteria if you use headphones, but it’s really not much different from the bacteria levels you encounter in your day-to-day life.

You may worry that this increase in bacteria can be damaging to your health (that is, after all, a reasonable concern). However, unless you suffer from regular ear infections, or any other easily aggravated ear-related ailments, the answer is a pretty definitive ‘no’.

Maybe if you dangle your headphones in the toilet before use, or get a flu-riddled relative to cough on them, you may have some trouble, but otherwise, the content of your ear is likely to be far more bacteria-friendly than the contents of your pockets (where the headphones are usually kept before use – if I’m any guide, that is).

What’s the Best Bluetooth Headset? (Asked by Mike From Croydon)

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Before I go any further, I should point out that Mike actually emailed saying “PS – don’t flake out on me like you sometimes do!” Bloody cheek! (Don’t worry, I won’t).

OK, Mike. To get the ‘flaking’ part of my answer out of the way nice and early, I have to say that it depends entirely on what you want from a headset. There isn’t much point spending out on an all-singing, all-dancing super-headset if all you want is a basic model, but, by the same token, great quality doesn’t come cheap in the world of electronics.

However, that’s not what you wanted to hear, is it, Mike?

OK, so, here are some of the best Bluetooth headsets that I’ve looked at so far…

The Jawbone Era is one of the best mono devices that I’ve personally seen. Using state of the art audio technology, the Era is a great sounding headset, but the inflated price tag may be a little bit off-putting for some potential buyers. To be honest (although please don’t read ‘honest’ as ‘flaking out’, Mike), this is going to be the pattern for most of the following examples, those that sound great, cost more.

Considerably cheaper is the Plantronics M55, a superb little worker and a bargain at less than half the price of the Era. Of course, it isn’t as good as the aforementioned Jawbone model, but this headset certainly won’t disappoint. Also from Plantronics is the Marque 2 M165, a sleek, dependable little number that also offers great value for money.

If its stereo you’re after, Mike, then the Jabra Clipper is a nice little doohickey, featuring an innovative design that will either impress or infuriate you, depending on how you plan on using it. The Sony Stereo Bluetooth Headset is also a great little runner and only costs about £30 (making it the cheapest one featured on this list).

As I initially said, it is totally up to you what sort of headset you want, but I can say that the models listed here have been well reviewed by other tech sites online, as well as myself. Do a web search before you decide which ones to buy though, that way you can ensure that you’re paying out for exactly what you want.

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