Why Your Headphones Hurt Ear Cartilage: Causes & Solutions

Eric Chan

Most of us love wearing headphones while listening to music, podcasts, watching videos, and listening to other forms of audio. However, you may have realized that your ear cartilage hurts when you use your headphones for extended periods. So, what leads to this pain? What makes your ears hurt when you use headphones? We shall discuss that and possible solutions. Please keep reading to learn more.

Headphone Types

There are different types of headphones, and understanding them makes it easier for you to understand why they might hurt your ear cartilage. So let's have a brief discussion about them.

a). On-Ear Headphones

Headphones that go over the head and lay on top of the ears are on-ear headphones. On-ear headphones are a bit smaller (about the size of your actual ear) and fit comfortably on top of them.

b). In-Ear Headphones

In-ear headphones are among the most portable and popular headphone models available. Because of their ease of use, if you are not a home, semi-pro, or professional studio artist or engineer, this is one of the fastest-growing styles in the headphone market.

These versions have improved fast to compete with the chunkier ones as technology allows for improved sound quality from smaller devices. In addition, they travel a little further into your ear canal and get a little closer to those precious eardrums than earbuds that rest on the outer ridge of your ears.

In-ear headphones are comfortable and have sound isolation features. They also provide you with sound accuracy, which makes them highly useful.

c). Over-Ear Headphones

To focus on sound isolation, over-ear headphones go on top of the head and "over" (on and around your ear cartilages, so the entire ear is "cupped"). Because they create an immediate environment between you and your listening sound, this form of headphones is the best for noise suppression.

Why Do Headphones Hurt Ear Cartilage?

There are various reasons why headphones hurt ear cartilage. In addition, ear pain causes discomfort that no one would like to experience. So, by knowing why your ears hurt when you use headphones, you may find solutions and preventive measures. So, let's get to business and learn why wearing headphones may hurt the ears for a long time.

a). Tight Headphones

Headphones with a poor fit are an issue that affects both over-ear and on-ear headphones. If your headphones are too snug, it's because of their strong clamping force.

This is a crucial aspect of keeping your headphones in place. However, too much of it might cause severe discomfort due to the increased strain in your head. In addition, when this pressure builds up over time, it can create external compression headaches. Wearing too tight headphones can also trigger bouts of migraines.

b). Shallow Earcup Padding

A shallow earcup cushion causes a lack of appropriate support. And, in the end, it harms your ear cartilage. Users with prominent ears are more likely to experience this. This is because headphone drivers tend to rub against them.

Your listening experience may become painful and uncomfortable due to this prolonged exposure to strain. In the worst situation, this could lead to scrapes and skin irritation.

c). Listener Fatigue

Listener fatigue is a tired feeling caused by listening to sound for an extended time. It has something to do with too much energy at higher frequencies.

Listener fatigue is caused by your eardrums working too hard when processing loud audio as it passes through your ear canal. Only by taking pauses and removing the headphones will the weariness be alleviated.

d). Wearing Glasses

If you wear glasses and headphones simultaneously, it may feel slightly uncomfortable and hurt your ears. When the headphone presses on the arm of the glasses, it is uncomfortable. If you alternate between glasses and contact lenses, it's advisable to switch to contacts if you wear headphones for extended periods. Switching to slimmer arm glasses will also reduce the pressure on the ears when using headphones.

e). Damaged Headphone Cushions

The majority of headphone cushions are designed to be comfortable and durable. However, if not properly cared for, they are prone to peeling and cracking. Sweat is the main cause of the damage as it is a very acidic substance. It not only looks unattractive, but it also stinks awful.

Sweating makes the cushions in the ear feel uncomfortable. You can choose sweatproof headphones that come with coverings to protect them from damage caused by moisture.

f). Excessive Treble

Listener fatigue is linked to the crisp treble range. It's possible that listening at a high volume is causing the headphones to hurt our ear cartilage.

How to Use Headphones Without Damaging Your Ears

You can use your headphones without experiencing inner ear pain, and there are several ways of doing that. Let's look at some of the ways of using your headphones without getting hurt.

a). Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones

This is especially critical if you listen to your device(s) in noisy areas, such as crowded city streets. You'll unconsciously increase the volume in your earbuds to drown out the background noise.

b). Use Over the Ear Headphones Over Earbuds

Over-the-ear headphones can be up to nine decibels louder than earbuds. So if you were listening at 91 dB, that would cut your safe listening duration in half, from two hours to 15 minutes!

c). Turn Down the Volume

Set your device's volume restriction to no more than 70 percent of its maximum volume.

d). Use the Equalizer for the Bass

Use the equalization on your smartphone to turn up the bass if you're a huge admirer of music's deep vibration and "head-banging" impact. Even if you dial down the volume, you'll experience the same pleasant sensation.

e). Add Ear Cup Padding

Earcup paddings give ear cushioning. Replacing your headphones' earpads with thicker ones may assist in alleviating the problem that makes headphones hurt ear cartilage.

You can get the best replacement for your ear cup paddings by;

i). Buying from manufacturers

Choose new ear cup pads specifically offered by your headphones' manufacturer to ensure optimum compatibility. The second-best alternative is to look for third-party manufacturers if they don't sell replacement ear cup cushions.

ii). Selecting the right size and shape

Make sure the replacement ear cup pads are compatible with the size and shape of your current one before purchasing. Look up the model and measurements of your headphones to find ear cup pads that will fit them.

iii). Selecting the material

Different materials for ear cups provide different ventilation, durability, and sound quality. However, ear cup paddings consisting of leather, velour, or microfiber provide the most comfort.

e). Turn it Off

Hearing loss occurs when people listen to loud music for lengthy periods. You can follow the 60/60 rule to allow your ears to rest and heal by listening at 60% volume for 60 minutes and then taking a 30 minute or longer break.

How to Choose the Best Headphones

Headphones can be comfortable or uncomfortable depending on their weight, clamping force, and adjustability. Therefore, you may need to check these factors to ensure you get comfortable headphones.

a). Adjustability

More adjustable headphones are easier to use. In addition, these headphones provide you additional flexibility in customizing the fit and positioning of the headphones to meet your features best. In general, the more you can personalize the headphones to fit your needs, the better. Therefore, if you need the most comfortable headphones, ensure they are adjustable so you can make them fit comfortably.

i). Earcup Rotation

The headphones' comfort is improved by rotating ear cups, which provide users adequate elbow room to adapt the ear cups to their faces' distinctive curves.

ii). Replaceable Parts

The headband, earbuds, headband padding, and sliders are all replaceable headphone elements. Replaceable components of headphones allow customers to adapt their headphones to their preferences readily. However, if the adjustable headband and ear cup rotation aren't resolving the problem, it may be necessary to purchase replacement parts.

iii). Headband Adjustment

Adjustable headbands are elongated headbands with sliding hinges that allow users to arrange the headphones according to their head shape. In addition, headphones featuring free-range lateral and vertical movements help disperse their clamping force.

b). Weight

Compared to heavy headphones, lighter headphones will not put too much pressure on your head. So even if you plan to use them for a long time, they can provide you with long-lasting comfort.

However, lighter isn't always a good thing. You can get headphones that are a little heavier and yet be comfortable. Just make sure to pick one with enough padding to provide adequate head and ear support. Also, evenly divide the weight of the headphones on your head to ensure it does not weigh down one side of your head.

c). Clamping Force

Headphones have a clamping effect that maintains them firmly in place on our heads and ears; otherwise, they'd fall off. The clamping effect is a huge plus for people who enjoy exercising while wearing headphones.

It gives you the freedom to walk around without having to adjust your position constantly. However, if the clamping effect is too strong, it can cause discomfort and agony by applying pressure to the temporal bone and ear cartilage.

Stretching the headphones over a row of books or the box they came in is one approach to reduce the amount of 'clamping' force they have. Do it gently because you don't want to overstretch them. The clamping effect is necessary to keep the cans on your head. This should give them a little more 'give' and make them more comfortable to wear.

i). Padding

The optimal headband and ear cup paddings for over-ear and on-ear headphones are thick, smooth, packed, and even. They should not be wrinkled or thin, as these traits indicate weak cushioning. Paddings made of genuine leather are the greatest choice for breathability and durability. Velour and microfiber are good options.

d). Ear Tip and Ear Cup Size

i). Ear Tips

The ear tips for IEM and earbud users should also be comfortable. Because IEMs go straight into the ear canal, ear tips that are neither too large nor too little for your ears should be used. Choose an earphone size that sits comfortably on your concha if you use earbuds.

ii). Ear Cups

Earcups that are not too shallow on the ears are advised for over-ear headphone users for maximum comfort. Deep ear cups provide better stability and avoid rubbing and irritation of the ears from the headphones' drivers. In addition, the ear cups should be larger than the ears.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

1. How do I stop headphones from hurting my ears?

Some of the ways through which you can stop headphones from hurting your ears are;

  • Scheduling periodic ear check-ups; these include professional cleanings
  • Cleaning them with a dry, non-abrasive and lint-free piece of cloth
  • Buy headphones that fit snugly

2. Can headphones deform your ears?

If you wear headphones that don't fit properly, your ears will not be deformed. However, they can cause pressure sores or even ear infections, so selecting a good pair of headphones is critical.

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