Q: What Can I Do About Ear Pain From Headphones or Earbuds?
A: Great question! From wireless headphones to near-invisible earbuds, these wonderfully convenient accessories sure make it easy to enjoy a personal audio experience streamed directly to your ears. And with the advent of MP3 players and other electronics, it’s no wonder earphone use has exponentially grown among youth and adults over the decades.
Overuse and misuse of earphones and earbuds, however, can go hand in hand with problems such as ear pain. Let’s talk about:
- How ear pain can arise
- Ways to relieve the pain
- How to avoid such problems in the first place
- When to seek professional help from your local hearing care provider
Potential Reasons for Ear Pain
One reason you might feel ear pain from wearing earphones or headphones is the fit itself. A poor fit — for example, wearing the headphones too tightly around the head — can put excess pressure on your outer ear, or pinna, which represents the visible part of your ear anatomy. The pressure can overly squeeze the pinna’s sensitive cartilage, causing discomfort.
Wearing the headphones too tightly or for a substantial length of time might also cause chafing of the skin, which can lead to itchiness, bleeding, and general discomfort. Some ears may also be more sensitive to the headphone’s earpad material or chemicals applied to the material, which might lead to allergic contact dermatitis or other complications.
Another potential reason for pain is excess noise streaming through your devices right into your ears. High volume levels — especially at or above the danger threshold of 85 decibels — can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. They can also cause immediate or later-developing ear pain and tinnitus, which involves head noises such as ringing, buzzing, or humming in the ears.
Earbuds, which are inserted into your ears rather than resting on the outer portion, not only carry the noise risks but can also cause pain-inducing ear infections or allergic reactions by bringing additional bacteria and debris into the ear canal. Also, the one-size-fits-all aspect could prove painful if the accessories don’t appropriately fit your ears.
An additional challenge is that earbuds can make it harder for your ears to naturally clean out excess earwax, which can trigger:
- Ear infection
- Hearing loss
DIY Ways to Relieve Ear Pain From Headphone or Earbud Use
Home remedies for ear pain can include a range of options, depending on the nature and extent of the problem. Solutions may include steps as simple as:
- Adjusting the earphones to reduce the pressure on your ears
- Removing the earphones or earbuds for an extended period, helping minimize hearing loss
- Reducing the sound level to 60% or less of the maximum volume, and wearing the devices for an hour or less at a time
- Taking an appropriate over-the-counter oral medication for pain relief, if it doesn’t conflict with other medications being taken
- Using over-the-counter ear drops specifically indicated for pain relief, if there is no underlying ear disease
How to Help Avoid Ear Pain From Headphone or Earbud Use
- Clean the devices with a dry, nonabrasive, lint-free cloth
- As mentioned above, keep the volume at 60% or less of the maximum level
- Make sure earphones fit snugly without excess pressure around your ears
- Avoid wearing headphones or earbuds for hours at a time, instead taking frequent breaks
- Schedule periodic ear checkups, including professional cleanings, to curb earwax buildup
- Switch out the earpads on your earphones to ones made from a different material — if possible — to address an allergic irritation
- Ensure the volume is already at the lowest setting before turning on the sound source or putting on the earphones or earbuds
When to Contact Your Local Hearing Care Provider
Although some at-home options can go a long way toward relieving pain due to earphones or earbuds, it’s important to seek professional care if the problem lasts longer than a day or if you suspect an ear infection or injury. A licensed hearing care specialist can examine your ears, determine the nature of the problem, and tailor suggestions for treatment.