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How to Make Headphones Not Hurt Your Ears

A survey conducted in the US in 2017 showed that only 1% population didn’t own headphones. 49% owned over-ear and an equal percentage owned earbuds. When asked about their complaints, there was one common one across all headphone types; “my ears start hurting after a while.”

There is no ‘best type of headphone’ and it’s all about preference. Where some prefer over-ear headphones while out for their morning run, in-ear would be the go-to type for others. But the question remains, how to make headphones not hurt your ears?

Before we get into what you can do about it, let’s discuss why headphones start hurting.

Why Headphones Hurt My Ears?

Anatomy of a human ear.

Helix is the outer-most part of your ear and the anti-helix is where the ear canal begins.


If a pair of headphones is hurting your ears the moment you put them on, the answer becomes very simple; it’s all about ear shape and compatible headphones.

A helix is the outer-most part of your ear, the curve that forms the boundaries of your ears. Over and on-ear headphones are often made with the assumption that the helix will be fairly straight. If yours isn’t, over and on-ear headphones will definitely hurt. We’ll discuss how to reduce that later on.

Also, the space in the ear ((known as Incisura Intertragica) where most in-ear headphones and earbuds sit is of a certain shape. And headphones are made with a crude oval on top with a small ‘hook’ to hold them in place.

If your anti-helix is small or the Incisura is smaller than the headphone or earbud, they will end up hurting sooner rather than later.

How to Make Headphones Not Hurt Your Ears?

Over-Ear/On-Ear Headphones

Man wearing over-ear headphones next to subway lines

The harder your headphones clamp, the more they’ll hurt.

People with Glasses; Choose a Slicker Design

Over and on-ear headphones don’t mix well with glasses. This is because of the clamping force of such headphones. Although this is done to ensure that noise doesn’t leak out or into your ears, this features presses down on the ear, holding them tightly against the legs of your glasses.

The thicker your glasses are, the sooner you’ll start feeling pain. In order to reduce the frequency of pain, we recommend you invest in a pair of glasses with thin legs or those with soft rubber around the legs.

Limit Usage

The longer you have your headphones on, the more it’ll hurt. This is also because of the clamping force, which, although serves a good purpose, works counterproductively during long stretches of time.

The determining factor here isn’t just time, though. If the clamping force is too strong, it will pressurize your ear cartilage and temporal bones. This doesn’t just hurt ears but also leads to headaches and soreness.

We recommend stretching the headphones out a bit before wearing them, or simply using it for shorter durations.


A headphone’s ear cushions are responsible for ensuring that the headphones sit comfortable on or over your ears. Headphones are commonly made out of;

  • Foam
  • Leather
  • Velour
  • Pleather

Although strong and durable, leather and pleather ear cushions are harder on the ears than foam and velour. If you’re considering buying a new pair of headphones, we recommend avoiding these if you’re susceptible to headphone-discomfort.

Earbuds/In-Ear Headphones

Woman exercising while wearing in-ear headphones

It’s all about finding the perfect size and reducing wire sway with in-ear headphones and earbuds.

While pain from over and on-ear headphones will go away after a while, earbuds and in-ear headphones have a way of making your ears sore. You won’t be able to use any headphones for a while if you continue using them despite the pain.

Eartip Size

Generally, both ears aren’t the same size. Although some manufacturers take this into account, some don’t. If you have earplugs of different sizes available, you should use them and see which size fits perfectly. Otherwise, you can find replacement earplug tips of different sizes under $5.

Sit Them Down Properly

Sometimes, in-ear headphones and earbuds fail to sit properly within the ear, which can lead to your anti-tragus getting sore. Therefore, before settling down, check that they are plugged in and seated the right way.

Simply push the eartip into your ear or gently pull them out slightly to ease the tip into a comfortable position. We also recommend fastening loose wires. As they sway, they are bound to put pressure on your ears, leading to ear pain.

If you’re looking to enhance your music-experience without having to worry about ear pains, soreness, or headaches, follow the guide above on how to make headphones not hurt your ears.


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Hi, I'm Red, the Chief Editor of Red Diamond Audio.