Personal question: when was the last time you let one of your pals, family members, or coworkers borrow your earbuds? If you’re anything like us, your personal audio devices get passed around a fair bit—especially when it comes to those sticky-fingered kiddos of yours!

Now, sharing earbuds might seem like a fairly innocuous activity; after all, sharing is caring, right? But—and this is a BIG but—allowing them to enter even just one other person’s ear can lead to some troubling and frankly disgusting consequences!

Recently, a video showing a doctor extracting blackheads from some poor soul’s EAR was posted to a Reddit board. (If you really want to see it for some reason, just Google “blackhead ear extraction,” but we, for one, don’t want to contribute to you throwing up your lunch. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)

Anyways, the gross-out clip was filmed in order to show viewers that sharing earbuds with others– or even wearing them too often— can lead to big, pus-filled blackheads INSIDE THEIR EARS. Talk about painful!

So, why can lending your earbuds to the folks around you contribute to this medical condition? Well, according to an interview conducted by BuzzFeed with Kelly Reynolds, PhD., associate professor of environmental health at the University of Arizona says that the situation has everything to do with germs.

“Studies have shown that earbuds cause an 11-fold increase in bacteria in the ears,” Reynolds explains. “When you share headphones, you’re doubling the microbial flora in your ears and introducing new bacteria.”

This can mean many things, from being exposed to harmless bacteria, to risking a build-up of bacteria that could cause minor, but gross skin conditions, like blackheads, to even contracting a serious staph infection—and those just go for the parts of the ear you can spot without the help of medical equipment.

You see, having an earbud pointing towards your inner-ear, makes it so that this bacteria, foreign or otherwise, becomes trapped in a hot, moist environment—a perfect place for this yucky stuff to flourish. This fact alone means that you are putting yourself at risk for getting fungal and bacterial infections, like the oh-so-lovely swimmer’s ear. Sounds fun, right?

How to prevent blackheads from popping up in the ear

The best way to prevent unwanted bacteria from settling in your ears is to stop letting anyone other than yourself from wearing those earbuds. Just say “no,” folks!

In addition to keeping them away from your germalicous buddies, it’s also key that you take the time to clean the listening devices on a regular basis. If your earphones have silicone covers, simply remove the bits that go into the ear and let them soak overnight in dish soap.

If you have those classic “mesh” headphones (like the ones that come with the iPhone), the process is a bit more complicated. Start by removing any excess gunk with a small cotton swab or pin and wipe clean with a dry cloth. Still see some wax and dirt? Swipe a tiny amount of rubbing alcohol onto the earbud’s surface and allow time to dry before using again. Easy, right?!

It’s also important to remember that hazardous bacteria can jump onto those headphones if left on tables or stored in your bag. To prevent this from happening to you, you can either purchase a case, or, better yet, make one on your own. Here’s a tutorial that will help you get started!

So, now that you know how to both prevent bacterial growth and clean those troublesome earbuds it’s time for you to change your habits. Your friends may, at first, think that you are being rude for not sharing your precious headphones, but once you let them in on your reasoning, we’re sure they’ll start carrying around their own pair!

We’d love to hear your take on this disgusting revelation. Do you share your earbuds? If so, will you continue to do so after knowing what you now know? Have you ever gotten sick from sharing headphones?