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Why do my ears hurt after wearing headphones?

Last update on Mar, 13, 2024

If your ears hurt after wearing your headphones or hearing aids all day—or even for a couple of hours—there’s no cause for immediate concern. However, it can be helpful to find the root cause of the discomfort and make adjustments to reduce ear pain or discomfort.

Reasons for pain from headphones or hearing aids

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why do my ears hurt after wearing headphones?” or noticed that your ears hurt after wearing hearing aids possible answers range from simple to more complex. And while there may be no one, single cause of this type of pain or discomfort, some of the most common reasons you may be experiencing ear pain from headphones, earbuds or hearing aids include:

We are directly affected by our environment—something that’s very evident in the winter, when the air is dry. Our skin gets dry and itchy and static electricity seems to build up everywhere. Sometimes, when static electricity builds up electronic devices—or on your body or clothes, before picking up a device—it can cause a small shock when you make contact with the device. This can happen when putting in earbuds or hearing aids—which is not only surprising but it can cause mild, temporary ear pain. 

It’s normal for headphones, earbuds or hearing aids to collect a bit of earwax on them after use. But it’s important to clean them regularly, since continuing to use dirty or waxy hearing aids or earbuds over time can potentially lead to ear pimples, infections or allergic reactions, all of which can cause ear pain. Scroll further down in this post for tips on how to clean headphones.

Research conflicts on whether or not headphones can contribute to ear infections, but one thing is certain: If you are experiencing an ear infection, wearing earbuds can make your ears hurt more. If you have an ear infection, refrain from using earbuds for the duration of the infection and up to several weeks afterward to give your ears ample time to heal. During this time, if you need to use earphones, swap out your earbuds for headphones that sit over your ears rather than in the ear canal.

Most earbud tips (the small, detachable piece of your earbuds that sit inside your ear canal) are made of silicone or foam. If you’re allergic to either of these materials, your earbuds could cause an allergic reaction, leading to irritated skin in your ear canal. If you’re experiencing skin irritation or an ear allergy, stop using your current earbuds and shop for replacement ear tips made of a non-irritating material.

Since earphones are often carried around, thrown into bags and generally exposed to a lot of elements in life’s various environments, they could also come in contact with irritants and debris. This is another reason why regularly cleaning your earphones is so important.

Ear pain from loud noises is a very real issue, as this can hurt your eardrums and can even cause hearing loss. In fact, 10 million Americans suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Mitigate the risk of NIHL by keeping audio at 85 decibels (dB) or less, as anything above this can cause permanent hearing loss. Even sounds above 70 dB can cause hearing loss over time. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can also increase your risk of tinnitus.

Using headphones or earbuds that aren’t regularly cleaned can cause oil buildup or clogged pores in your ears, leading to ear acne. Of course, it can also be caused by stress, hormonal imbalances and overproduction of oil. Regardless of the cause, if you’ve ever had an ear pimple, you know they can be quite sensitive and painful. If you continue to wear headphones or earbuds when you have a pimple in your ear, that can cause further irritation and pain.
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Ways to remedy headphone or hearing aid ear pain

Looking for a remedy for ear pain due to earphones or hearing aids? Often, making small adjustments can make a big difference. Below, you’ll find simple tips to reduce or eliminate ear pain caused by listening devices.

If you wear over-the-ear headphones, it’s possible for the headpiece to be too tight, which can constrict your head and cause headaches or ear pain. Simply loosening the band can help, or opt for a model that offers greater size adjustment.

In-ear earbuds often come with multiple tip sizes to ensure a proper fit. If your earbuds are causing pain, try a smaller size of ear tips so the device isn’t as tight in your ear canal opening. The same applies to hearing aids with silicone domes, which are available in multiple sizes. If your ears feel sore after using your hearing aids, make an appointment with your Miracle-Ear hearing care professional to talk about dome size options.

Experiencing headphone ear pain from the volume of your music, podcast or audiobook? Simply turn down the volume. Since earphones can crank up to 100 dB or more, keep the volume bar on your device at 50 to 60 percent of the maximum volume to protect your ears.

If your headphones hurt your ears, it may be because you’re wearing them for too long. Give your ears a break by taking your earbuds out at least every hour. If you wear over-the-ears headphones, taking a break can be helpful for both your ears and your head, as the compression of headphones can also cause headaches. 

If you’re using earphones in a noisy environment, you might be tempted to crank up the volume to help drown out the ambient noise in the space around you. But by doing this, you’re increasing your risk for ear pain, hearing loss and tinnitus. Try noise-canceling headphones instead. Designed to decrease ambient noises, they can reduce the volume needed in your headphones so you can enjoy what you’re listening to without distraction.

Regularly cleaning your headphones or earbuds will keep them hygienic and hopefully reduce ear pain due to built-up earwax, bacteria or debris. Wondering how to clean headphones? For a quick clean, just wipe down the surface of your device with a soft, lightly damp cloth.

For a more thorough cleaning, use the same soft, lightly damp cloth and a tiny bit of dish soap; wipe the surface of the headphones or earbuds. Use a cotton swab—or a cleaning tool designed specifically for the job, which you can purchase online—to remove earwax and other debris from removable earbud tips. Dry all components with a soft cloth, or air-dry as needed. You can also occasionally use an alcohol wipe to not only clean but sanitize your device—just don’t do this too often, as alcohol can begin to degrade headphone or earbud materials when used frequently.

Keep in mind that for cleaning hearing aids, you should never use water or liquid cleaning solutions, which can damage your devices.

When experiencing ear pain or hearing loss, it’s important to monitor your hearing health and discuss any concerns with a hearing care professional. Annual hearing tests can help you keep track of gradual hearing loss and understand when it’s time to take next steps, like purchasing hearing aids. Schedule an appointment today at your local Miracle-Ear store.
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Can you wear headphones with hearing aids?

Historically, using headphones with hearing aids wasn’t possible. But thanks to advancements in both hearing aid and headphone/earbud designs, there is some opportunity for using both devices at the same time, or for simple alternatives, thanks to Bluetooth technology. Just know that certain types of hearing aids are more compatible with certain styles of headphones, so it can be helpful to go into a store to try on various headphone styles. The process can take some trial and error to find the right fit for your particular needs. Find more information on specific hearing aids and headphone compatibility below.

ITE hearing aids are small and discreet, since the custom-molded devices sit inside the ear canal. So, can you use earbuds with hearing aids? Because of their size and where they sit in your ear, this type of hearing aid is only compatible with over-the-ear headphones—not earbuds. Bone-conduction headphones can also work with ITE hearing aids.

Many ITE hearing aids also come with Bluetooth technology, which allows you to stream audio from your phone, TV, computer or tablet directly into your ears—eliminating the need for bulky headphones.

BTE hearing aids have components that sit both in your ear canal and behind your ear. Because of this, they are not highly compatible with headphones, and they don’t work with earbuds. Occasionally over-the-ear headphones can work with BTE hearing aids, but it depends on the size of both your hearing aids and the earpieces on the headphones.

However, it’s important to choose a pair of headphones that doesn’t cover the microphone of your hearing aids, as this would inhibit their function. Your best bet with both BTE and receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids is to purchase a model with Bluetooth capabilities, and stream audio directly into your ears through your hearing aids. 

Bone-conduction headphones don’t sit over or in the ear canal, like traditional headphones or earbuds. Rather, they loop behind your ear and the speaker sits in front of the ear, near the edge of your cheekbones.

They send vibrations through your head and jaw bones, into your inner ear rather than passing sound through your eardrums. This positioning makes them a great fit with ITE hearing aids. However, since this headphone style generally has a piece that loops behind the ear to secure the device, this style of headphones typically isn’t compatible with BTE or RIC hearing aids.

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When to see a doctor

If none of the above tips alleviate your pain, and if you experience regular, persistent ear pain after wearing hearing aids, headphones or earbuds, visit a doctor or hearing care professional to discuss.

When to see a hearing specialist

For ear pain related to hearing aids, make an appointment at your local Miracle-Ear hearing aid center. Our trained hearing care providers can look at fit, clean your devices, conduct hearing tests and help you get to the bottom of the issue.

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