How To Stop Headphones From Hurting Your Ears

SoundGearLab-Team | Last Updated On September 21st, 2021 | This post may contain affiliate links.

Chances are, if you catch me at the gym, in my car, or sitting at my laptop writing articles like this one, I’m wearing headphones.

I love rocking out to my favorite songs, listening to audiobooks, and checking out the latest podcasts that I follow.

The onset of ear pain caused by prolonged use of headphones is one of the few things that can put a damper on these things.

If you’re in the same boat, this article might help with some tips on how to stop headphones from hurting your ears.

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So How Do You Stop Headphones From Hurting Your Ears?

  • Consider a different style of headphones.
  • Make sure your headphones fit properly.
  • Give yourself frequent breaks from use.
  • Always listen at a safe volume.
  • For in-ear headphones, consider changing the earbud tips.
  • With over-ear headphones, check and replace the padding.
  • Adjust the ear clip with on-ear headphones.
  • If your headphones are wired, try moving the wire from front to back during activities.

Let’s take a look at some important factors to consider that will enable you to find a set of headphones that are the most comfortable for you as well as some tips to prevent and avoid the onset of pain related to the use of your headphones.

What Style Of Headphones Is The Most Comfortable?

There are a multitude of different styles of headphones on the market today. Each specific style has several advantages and disadvantages. To ensure that your headphones provide hours of listening enjoyment rather than the frustration of causing pain, you’ll need to know the different styles of headphones available.

Take a look at these different styles to help determine which type of headphones is right for you.

Over-ear headphones

Over-ear headphones are the classic old-school headphones that people lovingly refer to as “cans.” These are the padded headphones that typically come to mind when I think of all of my favorite 80’s and 90’s hip-hop DJs.

Nowadays, with the advent of noise-canceling technology, these are the Beats by Dre style headphones often seen covering the ears of your favorite athletes.

This style of headphones offers the advantage of keeping the ear canal free from contact while canceling ambient noise.

However, the padding contacting the ears and the tension on the pads pressing them to your ears can become uncomfortable over time.

Find a set of these with good quality padding, and you’ll go a long way in preventing your headphones from causing pain.

Example of over-ear headphones

The Apple AirPod Max is an excellent option for over-ear noise-canceling headphones.

In-ear headphones

These are your classic earbuds that are fit snugly into the ear canal. Of course, we’re usually talking about your Apple earbuds or wireless AirPods here.

Both proper fit and volume control are super important with this style of headphones. There’s nothing worse than earbuds that are always falling out due to poorly fitting tips or earbuds that feel too tight when jammed in your ear.

Earbuds with multiple tip size options are always an excellent way to ensure that your headphones won’t begin to hurt with longer use times.

It should also be noted here that due to how far earbuds are inserted into the ear, they pose a risk for debris and bacteria getting into the inner ear, potentially leading to a nasty ear infection.

Example of in-ear headphones

The Apple AirPod Pro is one of the most popular examples of in-ear headphones.

Asian guy enjoying music on the go with airpod.

On-ear headphones

On-ear headphones are a hybrid of the previous two types, using a clip to secure the headphones to the ear.

These offer the safety of still hearing some ambient sound while also keeping a larger ear surface free from contact.

Finding a set of on-ear headphones with a good amount of adjustability in the ear clip can add a lot to preventing discomfort from setting in.

They can, however, cause the back of the ear to get red and sore, at which point it’s recommended to try changing their position to under the ear if possible.

Example of on-ear headphones

Powerbeats Pro are an excellent example of on-ear headphones.

Okay, so you’ve picked up a sick pair of headphones that you think are perfect for you, but after a few hours of use, you realize they aren’t all they were cracked up to be, and they start to hurt. So what do you do now? What’s your next move?

Let’s do a little troubleshooting…

What Causes Headphones to Hurt Your Ears?

Poor fit of headphones

Proper fit of your headphones is one of the most important things to address when trying to eliminate the discomfort associated with daily use.

Your earbud tips may be too large or too small. The padding on your over-ear headphones may be worn down, or the tension on them may be too much. The clip on your on-ear headphones may be too loose or tight.

Start with adjusting these different areas to ensure you have the best fit of your headphones to eliminate and prevent pain.

Ultimately, you may simply have had the things on for too long!

Using headphones for too long

Even if you find a well-fitting pair of headphones, using them for too long of a time without giving yourself a break will often lead to discomfort.

I’d recommend taking a fifteen-minute break from using your headphones at least every hour to give your ears and skin relief and prevent irritation.

Using headphones at an unsafe volume

We’ve already covered discomfort associated with improper fit and style of headphones. Still, don’t forget that often the pain associated with headphones can come from listening at excessive volume.

I know we all like to have our favorite song cranked all the way up, but this can lead to ringing of the ears, also known as tinnitus, and potentially even permanent hearing loss.

It’s recommended to listen to headphones at 60% of max volume and only use headphones at total volume for no more than fifteen minutes.

This breaks down to a safe listening level of no more than 85 decibels.

Portrait of brunette listening to music on headphones in the early morning on the beach

How Do I Make My Headphones More Comfortable?

Earbuds/in-ear

  • Change earbud tips to the appropriate size.
  • Replace old worn-out or damaged tips with new ones.
  • Purchase memory foam moldable tips.
  • Move wired earbud cord from the front of the head to the back.
  • Go wireless.

Noise-canceling/Over-ear

  • Replace old or worn-out padding,
  • Use a few books to stretch the tension on the headset.
  • Go wireless.

On-ear

  • Adjust clip setting.
  • Try changing position from the top of the ear to the under the ear.
  • Go wireless.

Ways To Relieve Pain Caused By Headphones

Let’s face it; there will be a time where you lose track of how long you’ve been listening to your headphones. For example, you get done with a solid workout or get way into a podcast, and before you know it, you realize your ears hurt.

With earbuds, maybe the ear canal gets irritated. With over-ear headphones, perhaps the pressure of the headset and pads suddenly feels like a vice squeezing your head. And with On-ear headphones, maybe it feels the outer ear is red and sore. So what do you do?

My best answer here is that you’ve simply been using your headphones for too long. Your skin and soft tissue of the ear are sensitive and don’t do well with sustained contact and overuse.

The bottom line is, you need a break. If the recommended fifteen minutes every hour is not enough, you may need to give it a rest for a day or two. As difficult as that may be, trust me, your ears will thank you for it later!

Prevent Pain From Use Of Headphones

Being proactive in preventing the onset of pain associated with headphone use is always a smart idea. For example, you can implement things like the following.

  • Clean earbud tips with a lint-free cloth to avoid debris and bacteria from entering the inner ear.
  • Give yourself a fifteen-minute break for every hour of use to allow skin and ear cartilage to recover.
  • Keep your volume setting below 60% of max volume for the majority of your listening time.

How To Tell If Your Headphones Are Damaging Your Hearing

Tinnitus, the medical term for ringing in the ear, is a sign and symptom of potentially severe hearing loss that can be associated with listening to your headphones at excessive volume.

The use of in-ear headphones or earbuds places you at potentially higher risk for this due to how close the sound is transmitted directly to the eardrum.

If you have ringing in the ears or headache after using your headphones, it’s a good idea to immediately make sure that you reduce the volume of your headphones and consider an on-ear style.

For ringing in the ears that lasts longer than a day or two, it’s highly recommended that you be evaluated by a healthcare professional to ensure no further hearing damage is done.

We’ve covered a lot here, and I hope you’ll find a great set of headphones that will fit well by using these tips and strategies.

If you do end up with some discomfort from using your headphones, you’re now armed with the information you need to make some tweaks to your existing set of headphones or find another style that might work a little better for you.

I hope that these ideas will help you get more enjoyment from using your headphones and that you can do so without pain.

Remember to choose a responsible volume, and Happy listening!