The First Time I Used Apple AirPods I Contracted An Ear Infection:  Here Is How, Why, And Some Other Things You Must Know About Using Any Kind Of Earpiece

AirPods, like all earphones, are a pleasure to use – but must be used with caution


It began on a quiet Saturday evening. I had finished reading the book for the week when I was compelled into solitude by a bitter circumstance. In trying to lift my mood, I tried various measures, one of which was to take a walk while listening to music, and eventually binging a Tv series on Netflix. 

When my legs came to the streets, the palm of my hands had in them, my phone, an iPhone 13 Pro, and an Apple AirPods Pro. And so I plugged the pods to my ear, went to an album, J Cole’s Forest Hill Drive, and pressed play. To and fro, from home to the end of the tarred road in the estate and back, my mood remained downcast. So I stood outside, even against the onslaught of mosquitoes, lulling in the calm of a darkening evening. 

I went back inside, later, having exhausted the album. I turned to Netflix on my phone and tuned to a show, Intimacy, which was about two young, Spanish women. The first was a factory worker who committed suicide after her nude pictures and a group-sex video from the past surfaced and were circulated at the workplace; the second was a young married female politician, a high achiever, about to run for mayor but whose career came to sudden jeopardy after a video of her making love in a beach with a side-cock was leaked by an unknown source. 

Burying myself in the plot, hoping to get lost in the labyrinth of the intricate story, as a means to escape the captivity of my mood, I sank deeper and deeper, consuming five episodes at a stretch. And then I woke up the next morning and found my right ear simmering in pain. 

At first, I thought it was a mild issue rooted, perhaps, in the fact that I may not have properly inserted the pods into my ears. But with each passing hour, it became clear that a bigger issue was looming. So I researched and consulted. First, with google and online medical websites, secondly with my cousin who is an audiologist, and thirdly with my wife, a nurse. 

With Google, through the earliest symptoms, I concluded that the case was a prolonged accumulation of dirt and earwax in my ear, caused by a protracted use of the AirPods, preventing airflow into the ear, which was necessary for the ear’s self-cleaning and function of balance. I rang my cousin and ran the wisdom of this diagnosis through him, and he found it sensible. 

Therefore, the first finding I made while surfing the net and studying medical pages and ear plugs’ user advisory websites was that ear plugs—which consist of earphones, buds, pods, and hearing aid gadgets—should not be worn for more than ninety minutes (90 mins) at a stretch. I failed in this. Following the prescription online, confirmed by my cousin, what I needed was to purchase an earwax removal oil, apply some drops into the affected ear, and have the accumulated wax evacuated. I purchased Cerumal, popularly effective for such evacuation, and introduced five drops into my right ear. 

Hours later, expecting positive results, my pain rather worsened. And then my wife stepped in. 

Infection is not caused by the AirPods, but by the nature of usage.

“Describe, in detail, the nature of pain you feel”, she requested over the phone, away at work that Sunday afternoon. Writhing in pain, I made a clumsy attempt at symptom description, and she went to work with the information. In a few minutes, she returned and asked, on Whatsapp, “do you feel the pain even on your earlobe, and around the flesh there?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I answered, typing anxiously. 

“Then I think you have an infection,” she responded, having taken a brief break to research and respond to me. 

“Infection kwa! How?” I texted back, my eyes popped in shock. 

“Relax, it is not a very big deal…”

“Not a very big deal? So it is a big deal at all, but not a very big one. Chineke Nna m!” 

“Relax kwanu. It is called swimmer’s ear, or Otitis Externa” she replied, sending a screenshot of some of her findings. I went to work immediately, reading everything I could find on the internet, on the first and second page of Google, about swimmer’s ear. 

During my research, I found that the same elongated use of ear plugs, with its resultant accumulation of wax and dirt, can over time lead to infections when the wax and dirt build up for so long, and the ear is isolated from fresh air for a lengthy period. Another contributing factor is the fact that the bacterias and fungi that can cause these infections do thrive in dark, moisty corners and enclaves—like within the ears—and a typical airpod, airbud, earbud, with their holding cases, are a hive for them. 

Naturally, there are bacterial and fungal agents in the ear that, at the right amount of deposit, are positive and good for the ear. Problems arise when, through long use of ear plugs, and the failure of air to come into the ear and balance these bacterial and fungi agents, the bacteria begin to collect and multiply with the accumulation of the ear wax and dirt. Worse, even, some of these bacteria eventually lodge at the crevices of the ear plugs. For example, on the inner surface of the airpod, at the rim within, when the user pulls the AirPods, he or she immediately inserts them into the pod/case. This way, the bacteria, which loves and thrives in dark, moist enclaves, continue to breathe and breed in your earphones, airpods, earbuds, etc. For this, users are advised to frequently clean their airpods and their pods/cases with methylated spirit or any alcoholic cleaning agent. 

Ultimately, I found in my research, that swimmer’s ear (or otitis externa) can and would resolve by itself after about five to seven days. It would, however, be so painful that the infected individual cannot be productive nor have peace. But it can be cured faster, within two to three days, with any ear dropping that contains Ciprofloxacin. 

With the rage of a charging bull, I made for a nearby pharmaceutical shop, acquired Ciprocet Eardrops, and began to rescue myself from the pangs of Otitis. Ever since that day, tortured by post-stress trauma, I have never plugged earphones of any kind into my ears. To go further, I sold off my AirPods Pro and instead bought a JBL Charge 4 speaker. I will keep listening to music, but no more plugged into my ears. 

NB: Otitis Externa is one of few infections that may develop with the uncontrolled use of earphones. For example, there is Otitis Acuna, which develops deeper in the ear, a more severe version of Otitis Externa, and may demand professional expertise to cure. 

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