Nurses use stethoscopes on a daily basis. Whether it is trying to obtain a blood pressure, or listening to the chest of a child, the stethoscope is a vital piece of nursing gear.
After every single use, the stethoscope should be wiped clean to prevent spread of germs between patients. If a stethoscope is shared amongst the nurses, it is especially important to wipe and clean the eartips diligently. Why is this so? This is because it is easy for oil, dirt and sticky ear wax to accumulate in the opening of the eartips. Any oversight in eartip cleaning may lead to an ear infection for the next user.
The external auditory canal is occupied by a variety of bacterial flora such as Staphylococcus auricularis, Staphylococcus capitis, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Pseudomonas
aeruginosa and Turicella. otitidis.1,2 These bacteria are present in the outer ear of healthy individuals and does not normally cause infection. Any abrasions in the external auditory canal may increase the occurrence of ear infections.
The use of earplugs, earphones and eartips could lead to abrasions in the out ear and allow bacteria to enter from the environment. Prolonged use without proper disinfection may also lead to colonization of the eartips. The sharing of earphones and eartips allows bacteria to move from one person to the next, increasing the chance of bacteria growing and reaching critical mass, entering the body and causing an infection.
A study published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology on the bacterial flora of stethoscope’s eartips demonstrated the colonization of the stethoscope’s earpiece with microorganisms that possess the potential for causing nosocomial infection3. It also suggest that there is a relationship between the usage of stethoscopes and the occurrence of external otitis.
A study conducted by India’s Manipal University4 found that 93 percent of test swabs performed on people who shared earbuds came back with high levels of harmful bacteria. For those who didn’t share their earbuds, only eight percent of their test swabs came back positive.
Would you share your earphones with someone else? If not, you might want to re-consider sharing stethoscopes too.
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1. Stroman DW, Roland PS, Dohar J, Burt W. Microbiology of Normal External Auditory Canal. Laryngoscope 2001;111:2054-9
2. Brook I. Microbioloical Studies of the Bacterial Flora of the External Auditory Canal in Children. Acta Otolaryngol 1981;91:285-7.
3. Brook I. Bacterial Flora of Stethoscopes’ Earpieces and Otitis Externa. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1997;106:751-2.
4. Mukhopadhyay C, Basak S, Gupta S, Chawla K, Bairy I. A comparative analysis of bacterial growth with earphone use. Online J Health Allied Scs. 2008;7(2):4