7 Reasons Why Do Headphones Hurt My Ears & (How to Deal)

As for any other music lover out there, indulging in my favorite pastime is downright impossible for me without popping a pair of headphones on my head. And why is that? Well, they are splendidly convenient, and, honestly, they look wicked. But why do headphones hurt my ears?

It pains me that, time and time again, I ask myself the same question. It doesn’t matter which headphones I get, they all end up causing me some discomfort. My old pair of over-ear headphones used to give me pounding headaches. I swapped them for on-ear ones that ended up chafing my auricle so much that I had to give them up, too. Finally, I settled on a pair of in-ear ones. That decision got me an ear infection.

Naturally, I had to visit an otorhinolaryngologist. As it turns out, the infection could have caused hearing damage, which I didn’t know at the time. Besides that, I got plenty of useful tips from the ear doctor on how to protect my ears while using headphones. Read on to find out why they hurt the ears and what you can do about it.

Why Do Ears Hurt From Wearing Headphones?

hearing problem

If my experience is any indication, all types of headphones can cause discomfort. I also browsed the web to check if anyone else had experienced the same thing. Below, you’ll find the most common causes of troubles related to on-ear, over-ear, and in-ear devices alike.


Your Headset May Be Too Tight

The clamping force of your headphones is a crucial feature. Were your headphones loose, they would constantly fall down, move around, and disrupt your listening experience. The hold that your device has on your head ensures that it stays put when you’re active, even during vigorous exercise.

However, when the clamping force is too strong, your over-ear headphones put pressure on your temporal bones, which can cause an itchy scalp from the disrupted blood flow or give you a full-on headache. Similarly, on-ear ones tend to squeeze the cartilage of the ear so hard that it starts to hurt.

Your Frames Are Getting in the Way

If you happen to wear glasses, they are likely making the problem even worse. That is due to the headset pressing down on the arms of your spectacles. And the thicker the stems are, the more chafing and pain you’ll feel.

Your Headphones Are Not the Right Fit

Take a look at the size of the headphones. If the headband is too small, it will dig into the top part of your head and make the device to feel uncomfortable. Likewise, the cups on your earpiece need to fit your ears. Small cups on over-ear headphones can’t surround the ears that are too big for them. That means they will squeeze the outer ear and irritate the auricle.

Also, although earbuds have a one-size-fits-all reputation, many people experience chafing, rubbing, and even pain when they force themselves to use earbuds that are too big for their ears.

The Cushions Are the Problem

Believe it or not, the cushions may sometimes be the core of the problem. If you are using lower-quality headphones or you’ve had them for a long time, the pads can become stiff and damaged. They may start to crack, tear, and peel, and in turn, fail to provide the comfort level that they used to. What’s more, the bits that peel off may get stuck somewhere in your ear canal and cause excess wax production, or even an infection. It could also cause echo – for which check out our guide on how to fix echo in headphones.

The Music Is Too Loud

If you are listening to extremely loud audio, especially if you do it frequently and for extended periods, you may develop inner ear pain; the ramped-up volume also leads to the development of tinnitus. Tinnitus makes one hear ringing, buzzing, or humming sounds that have no external source. An affected person can hear them all the time, which is incredibly annoying and distracting.

You Have Listener Fatigue

Prolonged listening to high frequencies puts a strain on the ears. Sony explains listener fatigue as a symptom that happens when eardrums process loud sounds for extended periods. If that affects you too, you may feel ear pain, irritability, and general weariness.

You Have an Infection

When you put earbuds in your ear, you transfer debris and bacteria straight to your ear canal. Excessive earphone use keeps the earwax inside the ear, thus preventing it from naturally cleaning itself. So if you use earbuds or in-ears excessively and frequently, you may have developed an ear infection.

How to Stop Headphones From Hurting Your Ears?


Deaf employee using hearing aid in office

Depending on which of the above is the source of your vexation, there are different things you can do to relieve it. That being said, let’s see how you can tackle your headset issues and also delve into the wisdom my doctor imparted on me. Here are a couple of steps you can take:


Step 1: Stretch the Headband

Headphones that have too strong of a grip can be stretched to minimize the pressure they put on your head. All you need is a stack of books that roughly corresponds to the width of your head. Even the box that the headset came in could do. Place the headphones on the stretcher you’ve made and leave them there overnight. Come morning time, you should be able to feel that the clamping force loosened.


Step 2: Change the Temples

This one goes out for all my bespectacled readers. If possible, change the temples on your glasses. These days, you can put rubber arms on many frame models. If that is not an option for your pair, the next best thing is to go for thinner stems — the thinner, the better. Alternatively, you can throw on contact lenses while you have your headset on.


Step 3: Use Headphones of Appropriate Size

The headphones need to fit the size of your melon. What’s more, they have to fit snugly in, on, or around your ears.

First, the headband must sit comfortably on your head. A safe bet is to go for an adjustable one.

Also, if you are using an over-ear or on-ear device, make sure the cups fit your ears. You don’t want them chafing the cartilage because they are too tiny for you.

As for earphones and in-ears, consider getting a pair with replacement buds in different sizes. That will allow you to customize them to fit the inside of your ear just right.

Pro Tip: Many people don’t know this, but you can try a headset before you buy it. Although you can’t open the sealed packaging to try every pair, stores do have particular products on display. Ask if you can pop them on your head to check whether the size, the fit, and the comfort level are right for you.

Step 4: Replace the Cushions

Luckily, if the cushions on your headset have worn out, you don’t have to throw your device away. You should be able to find replacement pads that fit your earpiece on Amazon in a jiffy.


Step 5: Decrease the Volume

Did you know that the severe hearing loss threshold is 80 decibels? To be on the safe side, my doctor told me that I should strive to decrease the volume to at least 60% of the maximum level.

Also, the volume should start low when you first put headphones on and then build up to lessen the impact on your eardrums.


Step 6: Take a Break

Finally, you should take frequent breaks to avoid using headphones for long stretches of time. The doc’s advice — don’t use them for over 60 minutes at a time.

Final Thoughts

If my trip to the doctor’s office has taught me anything, it is that prevention is the best medicine, even though the chances of headphones seriously messing up your ears are slim.

Start by choosing a pair of headphones that are comfortable for you to wear. Also, remember that moderation is key — don’t use it too much or for too long. And be mindful of your health by not cranking the volume up all the way.

In the end, I hope you found this article helpful. If you did, make sure you share it with your friends who also wonder why headphones hurt their ears. Also, feel free to drop me a comment below and tell me what worked out for you. Also, before you go, and have airpods, check out what to do if you dropped airpod pro in water and if you are wondering can you use airpods on ps4 – Here is your answer!!

John Gurley

John Gurley

John Gurley is the Founder, CEO, and Editor At Muse Mini. He has a passion for music and headphones and loves to cover all things music!