How to Reduce Ear Pain From Headphones?

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how to reduce ear pain from headphones

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Since the rise of personal listening devices has increased, so has the rise of headphones and earphones. Gone are the days when you had to play your favourite music on a speaker. Now you can listen to anything you want without disturbing people around you.

People are dependent on them for work and play. For most people, it’s hard to imagine a life without headphones.

But they also pose a problem. Improper or prolonged use can cause ear pain and various other issues. It is crucial to address this early so this doesn’t become a more significant issue in the future.

Don’t know what is causing your ear pain? Don’t worry; we have a guide to potential reasons for your pain and how to reduce it.

Why Should You Care About Ear Pain?

Why Should You Care About Ear Pain

Ear Pain usually indicates a much larger issue at hand, i.e. hearing loss. We’ve all gotten so used to our listening devices that we no longer pay attention to the volume or duration we use them for. For every decibel of sound, there is a safe listening period you can listen at.

Exceeding this time limit would mean causing permanent damage to your hearing. E.g.:- You can safely listen to music at 85 dB for eight hours. As the dB goes higher, the safe listening time significantly decreases.

Research shows that the average portable device plays at 100 dB. At 100 dB, the safe listening time is only 15 minutes. And the average listening time is way beyond 15 minutes. Imagine just how damaging that can be.

Also, the impact of hearing loss doesn’t become obvious until way later. You’ll experience problems from hearing only a decade or two later when you realise you’re having trouble listening to things. So it’s better to address this issue while you still can.

Reasons for Ear Pain

Here is a potential list of reasons why your headphones are causing you pain.

1. Poor Fitting in Headphones

Poor Fitting in Headphones

Fitting is a significant issue with most headphones. People have unique ear shapes, and it’s nearly impossible to find headphones in the market that fit everyone perfectly. Most headphone manufacturers make one size fits for all of their headphones.

If a headphone is too tight, it puts too much pressure on the outer ear cartilage, which can cause pain. This is also a common issue with most on-ear headphones, as their ear cups are not large enough to cover your ears. As a result, they press down on your ears, which causes discomfort.

This also happens with headphones with a high clamping force. They are helpful for keeping your headphones in place, but too much pressure can lead to discomfort. Thankfully, there’s a way you can decrease this clamping force which we’ll talk about in the next section.

2. Poor-Fitting in Earphones

Poor-Fitting in Earphones

If you have come across plastic earbuds, airpods included, they have a one size fits all. This is not great since our ears are differently shaped.

Silicone earbuds are somewhat better since most headphone manufacturers provide extra ear tips. Even then, there is no guarantee that they’ll fit in your ear correctly.

Earbuds that don’t properly fit hurt because they rest unevenly inside your ear canal. This also triggered pressure points inside the ear canal, leading to discomfort.

3. Fitting With Silicone Ear Tips

Silicone Ear Tips

Earbuds with silicone tips have a better fitting, but they are not that much better when it comes to ear pain.

This is because they are inserted directly inside your ear canal instead of resting on your ears. This makes them deliver sound at a much higher risk and increases the chances of ear infections that will cause pain.

Even with adjustable ear tips, they don’t always ensure a correct fit and can cause pain after some time of wearing.

4. Wax Buildup in the Ear

Our ears have a process for cleaning themselves naturally, so you don’t have to worry about doing it. However, this process gets interrupted when our ear canals are covered with earphones and headphones for a significant period.

Wax and moisture end up staying trapped in the ear canal. This leads to excessive build-up, leading to hearing issues and infections.

5. Listener’s Fatigue

Listener’s Fatigue

Listener’s fatigue usually happens when you listen to loud volumes for prolonged periods. Your eardrums find it challenging to deal with the sound in your ears.

Louder volumes result in higher frequencies which also come with too much energy. All this gets difficult to manage, which creates a feeling of strain in your ears.

Tips to Reduce Ear Pain From Headphones

Here are some tips on how to reduce ear pain from headphones.

1. Take Constant Breaks

Take Constant Breaks

ENTs recommend taking frequent breaks when weaning headphones and earphones. Take them out every hour or so.

Keep them off for at least 15 minutes, giving your ears enough to breathe. Having a break every so often also is good to prevent you from wearing your headphones for too long.

2. Avoid Earbuds

Avoid Earbuds

Earbuds are inserted directly into your ear canal. This causes them to have a higher dB of sound, which can be up to nine dB louder than over-the-ear headphones.

This significantly reduces the time you can listen without damaging your hearing permanently. And we use earphones over long stretches without ever realising their impact.

3. Choose the Right Headphones

Choose the Right Headphones

People’s ear shape varies, but most manufacturers only come with one size fits all. This makes it difficult for most people to find their fit. 

It’s tough to find your correct fit with certain types of headphones, like on-the-ear headphones and in-the-ear earbuds. A good solution for this could be opting for over-the-ear headphones. Most over-the-ear headphones are large enough to fit over the ear so that they won’t pose this problem. 

They don’t pressure your outer ear or inside the ear canal, so they are safer for listening. The speakers are also a reasonable distance away from your ears. 

Also, when you’re going headphones hunting, try to look for headphones with softer padding so they sit comfortably on your ears. Headphones with thicker padding are usually more comfortable.

We also have a guide on headphones where we compare all types of headphones and discuss how safe each one is. 

4. Opt for Noise Cancelling Headphones

If you’ve used your headphones in a crowded place, you must have turned up the volume so you could hear better. We often do this without realising how high the sound gets and how significantly we reduce our safe listening time. And we continue to listen to them for prolonged periods, which causes irreversible damage.

This is why you should opt for noise-cancelling headphones. They cancel out all the distracting background noise for you so you can listen to your music at a safe volume.

The price of Noise Cancelling headphones was high, which is why not everyone could get them. Nowadays, many headphone manufacturers have started including ANC, even in affordable ranges.

One such headphone is over the headphones Rockerz 551 by boAt, which comes with an ANC of 35dB.

5. Adjust the Headphone

Adjust the Headphone

Even if a headphone doesn’t sit perfectly on you, you can still make a few minor adjustments to ensure they’ll fit correctly. 

Headband According to Your Head Shape

Almost all headphones these days come with adjustable headbands that you adjust according to your head size. A good rule of thumb would be to extend the adjusters a little before placing them on top of your head and then adjusting them according to what feels the most comfortable. Ensure both ear cups are lined with your ears and sit on top without discomfort.

Most headphones also have the option to rotate the earcups according to your preference. Make sure to turn your ear cups at an angle where they sit perfectly on top of your ears and don’t lead to any discomfort.

Reduce the Clamping Force

Clamping force on your headphones ensures that they stay on your ears and block off surrounding sound. However, too much-clamping force leads to discomfort and ear pain.

You can easily adjust the clamping force of your headphones, and there are several ways to do this. Also, remember the make of your headphone and what material they have inside the headband area. Adjusting the clamping force on a headband with metal is way easier than with something with plastic.

We wouldn’t recommend trying this if your headband has a plastic build. There are two ways to do this.

The first is stretching out your headphone outward to loosen the clamping. You can also find something slightly wider than your head, such as a stack of books. Then stretch out your headphones by placing them over this stack and leave them like that overnight.

Your headphones should have loosened up by morning. If not, simply repeat this step until the clamping force feels comfortable to you.

6. Avoid Using Headphones Whenever Possible

A lot of us are constantly surrounded by people if you commute to work or spend most of your time outdoors. It’s common courtesy to use headphones in these situations to avoid disturbing people around us.

However, we’ve gotten so used to wearing headphones that most people have them on even when they are alone with no one around them.

So a good rule of thumb would be not to wear headphones when it’s not necessary, say when you’re alone in your room watching youtube videos.

7. Adjust the Volume

Always listen to music at a lower volume than you think is necessary. A good rule of thumb is always to have the volume turned all the way down before you start listening to anything.

Then slowly turn the volume up and opt for the lowest volume where you can hear everything clearly.

You can also install a volume-limiting app to remind you once you exceed a certain volume and help you turn it down.

8. Clean Your Ears Regularly

Make it a point to clear your ears regularly to avoid any wax buildup leading to discomfort and pain. Cotton swabs further push the ear wax into the ear, making it even more difficult to remove, and this causes more pain.

A better option would be to stick to the outer parts of your ear and clean them with a damp cloth. If you feel like you have a lot of wax in your ear, ask your nearest doctor to prescribe you an ear-cleaning solution that you can put inside your ear.


Ear pain from wearing headphones might be a short-term problem. Still, it can often lead to more significant issues like permanent hearing loss. So, paying attention to your ear health while you can is important.

Opt for over-the-ear headphones rather than earphones, choose ANC headsets if you can, limit your usage and take frequent breaks while wearing headphones.

Hearing loss is permanent, so taking precautions while you can is better. We hope this article was helpful and encourages you to pay more attention to the health of your ears.