If you love music as much as I do, then you probably know from your own experience that headphones can cause pain. Ear cups and ear tips are sometimes so uncomfortable that they completely ruin the listening experience — and I wanted to end it. Have you ever wondered how to make headphones not hurt your ears?
Reading this research article on premature hearing damage made me realize that headphones can cause more problems than I previously thought. So, I decided to do a bit more research and find the best solution for such a common problem.
At the beginning of my research, I was overwhelmed by all the similar questions and many inconclusive answers. The most frequently asked questions I came across were:
- Why do headphones hurt your ears?
- Can headphones cause ear pressure?
- Is it possible to use earphones without damaging your ears?
- Can I make my headphones more comfortable?
Those are all the questions I’ve been asking myself as well, so I’ve taken the liberty of filtering out the best answers. Today, I’ll share with you some tips to help you prevent hearing damage and make your headphones hurt less.
Why Do Headphones Hurt Your Ears?
Let’s answer one question straight away — yes, headphones can cause ear pressure. Prolonged pressure on the ears is the main reason your earphones and headphones are causing you pain. In essence, they put:
- Internal pressure on your eardrums, cochlea, and ear bones
- External pressure on your ear shells and temporal lobes
Pain Caused by Ear Pressure
Whenever you decide to use headgear to listen to music, you set your body off balance. Let’s face it — using headphones is not natural by any means. Thus, it’s difficult for your body to adapt to this headgear.
Headphones create internal pressure by directly irritating the eardrums. Your eardrums vibrate so that they can accommodate to louder sounds. So, the stronger the vibrations — the more pain you feel. If the vibrations are too strong, the support at Sony states that they can even cause listener fatigue.
To illustrate the magnitude of this pressure, imagine you’re at a rock concert, standing right by a speaker. You’ll probably want to move further away from the noise at some point because the average sound level at a rock concert is between 100 dB and 120 dB (and that’s a lot).
Now, imagine listening to a sound coming from your earbuds that can develop 113 dB at 100% volume. It’s like a rock concert in your head! Yet, when I was trying to figure out how to wear earbuds properly, I thought I had to place them as deep as possible inside the ears. Oh, was I wrong!
As for external pressure, if a headphone set or a pair of earphones doesn’t fit you well, chances are they will hurt your ears.
Once I found out why my ears had been extremely sore, I started wondering whether I could prevent the pain. Luckily, I found some useful tips to follow, and they have served me very well so far.
How to Properly Use Headphones to Avoid Ear Damage
1. Keep the Volume Down
Since loud music can cause internal ear damage, try lowering the volume of your music device before playing music through the headphones. The standard conversational loudness is around 60 dB, so the music volume shouldn’t be much higher than that.
- TIP: Always check the volume and lower it before playing music.
However, you might have some trouble finding the decibel intensity on your listening device. In that case, you shouldn’t go over the volume your device recommends.
Still, keep in mind that volume standards differ between manufacturers. The bar for models stronger in volume might be set higher, so your headphone set could still cause you to feel uncomfortable.
2. Use Your Headphones Less Frequently
You should also mind the time spent using your headphone set because your ears need some time to recover. Besides pain, too frequent earphone usage can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
But how much listening is a lot?
- TIP: Use “the rule of 60.”
There’s one simple rule you can follow, but keep in mind that it’s not carved in stone. “The rule of 60” states that you shouldn’t use your earphones for more than 60 minutes at a time. Additionally, you should stick by the maximum 60% volume and 60 dB so that you don’t risk damaging your hearing.
3. Use Noise-Canceling Headphones
Noise-canceling technology (also known as noise reduction) is often used with single ear Bluetooth cell phone headsets. Its main purpose is to cancel out all the unnecessary noise coming from the outside. That way, you can focus on the sound coming from the headphones.
Without external noise in the way, you can lower the volume and still hear everything. However, this might be a double-edged sword. Not hearing anything from the outside world might be dangerous, especially in traffic. A few years ago, I decided to wear noise-canceling earbuds while running some errands and almost got hit by a school bus full of loud kids.
Learn from my mistakes — if you go for such headphones, make sure you’re always aware of your surroundings and aren’t putting yourself or others in danger.
4. Try Not to Wear Glasses with Headphones
When it comes to eyewear, you should focus on preventing glasses from carving into your head. So, for one, try avoiding headphones and rely on earbuds or earphones instead.
However, if you’re really keen on wearing headphones with glasses, there are some less uncomfortable DIY tricks to do so:
- Reduce the clamping force to avoid pressing the glasses hard into your head.
- Get special glasses with flexible and thinner frames.
- Go for over-ear instead of on-ear headphones.
- Use ear pads with thicker and softer cushioning.
- Cut a gap through the ear pads where the glasses go through.
5. Find the Best Fit
And here’s my ultimate piece of advice on how to wear headphones — find a pair that fits! If you’re planning on buying a new pair, choose compatible models. When it comes to headphones, you would want them to have a flexible band so that you can adjust the clamping force. As for earphones, get some that come with exchangeable tips.
However, as said by the former chief designer at Apple, Jony Ive: making headphones that can fit everybody is equivalent to making shoes that fit every foot. You get the idea — keep searching until you find the headphones that are just right for you.
Here are some additional tips to help you find the best fit:
- Always use the L and R side the way they’re marked.
- Opt for memory foam ear pads and headband cushion padding.
- Use stabilizers to keep the ear tips in place.
- Find the right clamping force to position the headphones comfortably.
- Try to avoid on-ear headphones if there are over-the-ear counterparts available.
- Get softer cushioning for the band.
- Find the right ear tip size (note that sizes can differ between models).
- Check whether your ear cups are the right size.
In the end, I realized that there’s no reason listening to music should be a painful experience because not every earphone or headphone model is designed to fit every ear. Thus, you just have to find the right one.
Since I mentioned some other ways on how to make headphones not hurt your ears, you might wonder what the best solution is. If you ask me, it’s avoiding prolonged internal and external ear pressure. So, the next time you feel the urge to listen to some tunes, figure out how to wear earphones without placing them too close to your eardrums.
Finally, I hope that you enjoyed this article and that you found it helpful. The search for the right headphones is going to be a hard one. But, it will be much easier if you follow the tips I shared with you, as they helped me a lot. Keep in mind that your hearing is at stake — don’t risk losing something so precious. Share this article with your friends if you liked it, and feel free to leave comments.