Why do Earbuds Hurt My Ears?

Do your ears hurt constantly while using earbuds? Here, I've listed numerous reasons why it might happen and possible solutions.

Are you wondering, “Why do earbuds hurt my ears?” If yes, you’ve landed on the right page.

Earbuds are a cost-effective and incredibly portable way to listen to music anywhere.

However, there are a few tradeoffs, one being your ears get tired after an hour of use.

In this article, I’ve highlighted the reasons your ears hurt while using earbuds.

Why do Earbuds Hurt My Ears?

Here’s a list of a few reasons why earbuds hurt your ears:

  1. Choosing the wrong earbuds type
  2. Incorrect silicone ear tip size
  3. Pressure Buildup
  4. Ear canal shape
  5. Extended use
  6. High volume level
  7. Earwax buildup
  8. Ear infection
  9. Active Noise Canceling
  10. Allergic Reaction

Let’s dive deep, and I’ll help you understand each reason in detail. After that, you can decide the reason responsible for hurting your ears.

10 Reasons Why Earbuds Hurt Your Ears

1. Choosing Wrong Earbuds Type

Earbuds manufacturers design their products with a universal design. It means most people can use the product without any issues.

However, each earbud model is slightly different from the other.

I prefer stem-based earbuds (like Apple AirPods Pro) compared to the round or teardrop design seen in most wireless earbuds.

try earbuds of different shapes and size

Stem-based earbuds are supported by your ears’ intertragic notch. On the other hand, round or teardrop-shaped earbuds primarily rely on the seal provided by the silicone ear tips.

As a result, I recommend trying earbuds of different designs and checking which type offers the most comfort.

2. Incorrect silicone ear tip size

No matter what price you pay for your earbuds, the silicone tips make the entire difference.

The wrong silicone ear tip size can make your premium earbuds sound tinny.

silicone eartips of different sizes

Besides sound quality, incorrect ear tip size can also hamper your comfort and cause your ears to hurt.

Earbuds’ packages commonly include small, medium, and large silicone ear tips. If you use a larger size than usual, it adds unwanted pressure against the ear canal. The additional pressure can make your ears hurt.

3. Pressure Buildup

Even if you choose the right silicone ear tip size, your ears can still hurt if you wear them incorrectly.

The silicone ear tips seal your ears properly for comfortable use.

However, inserting the ear tips deeper into your ear canal can cause pressure buildup.

As a result, your ears slowly start to hurt, making the earbuds unbearable to wear.

4. Ear Canal Shape

Like fingerprints, our ear shapes are also unique to each individual.

As mentioned earlier, earbud manufacturers design their products to suit most users. However, on a rare occasion, your ear canal shape might not be suitable for using earbuds for a long time.

To tackle this, you can go to a supermarket like Best Buy or Walmart and try on different types of earbuds.

Later, you can purchase the one that fits your ears correctly.

5. Extended Use

Even if you wear the right size silicone ear tips correctly, it can still cause ear pain if you wear your earbuds for a longer time.

Our ears perceive earbuds as foreign objects entering our ears. As a defense mechanism, our ears produce more ear wax to prevent it from entering further into our ears.

In addition, wearing earbuds for a longer time warms the ear canal. It causes our ears to sweat. Thus, the excess wax and sweat make our ears extra greasy and cause our ears to hurt.

6. High Volume Level

It’s no surprise that listening to music at a high volume will hurt your ears.

However, you don’t realize it while traveling. Later, you increase the volume by 20-30% to drain the ambient noise.

Reduce volume to prevent ears from hurting

The extra volume from your earbuds, coupled with ambient noise, causes additional strain on your ears. That’s why your ears start to hurt after some time, and you don’t even realize why it’s happening.

7. Earwax buildup

While I’ve talked about earwax in the previous points, it’s also a significant reason your ears might start hurting within 20-30 minutes of listening.

The amount of earwax, or cerumen buildup, varies between people. As a result, some people’s ears generate earwax in excess. In contrast, people on the other side of the spectrum hardly generate earwax.

If you’re one of those people whose ears get filled with earwax after using your earbuds for a day, it can be the primary reason why your ears hurt.

If you experience excess earwax buildup and you use earbuds regularly. In that case, the earbuds’ silicone tips push the earwax further towards the eardrum and build pressure. This pressure buildup can cause mild to excruciating pain in your ears.

8. Ear Infection

Our ears generate earwax to keep dust, microbes, and foreign particles from entering our ears. However, an excess amount of earwax can also cause ear infections.

Earwax coupled with prolonged earbuds usage, sweat, and blockage of fresh air creates an environment favorable for fungal and bacterial growth.

It can cause an ear infection known as otitis externa or “swimmer’s ear.”

Ear Infection can also hurt your ears while using earbuds

Ear infection symptoms include pain, itching, redness, skin irritation, and discharge.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you must visit a qualified ear doctor to treat your infection.

9. Active Noise Canceling

Thanks to Apple AirPods Pro, active noise cancellation (ANC) has become extremely common in wireless earbuds costing as low as $40.

However, the performance of the ANC feature varies vastly between cheap and expensive earbuds.

The Active Noise Canceling feature aims to block external noise. It reduces the amount of ambient noise that enters your ears.

ANC uses multiple microphones to pick up ambient noise and generates opposite sound waves (anti-phase) of the external noise, effectively canceling it.

During initial usage, you might feel some pressure in your ears when you turn on the ANC mode.

For new users, the sensation feels weird, and your ears aren’t used to it. It can cause your ears to hurt during initial use.

Most people get used to the sensation within a few days; however, some people keep feeling the weird sensation even days or months after use.

In such a scenario, you can choose not to use the ANC feature or upgrade to ANC earbuds from premium brands like Sony and Bose,

10. Allergic Reaction

Like the earbuds design, manufacturers use mass-friendly materials like silicone, rubber, plastic, and a few metals for their earbuds.

However, a rare amount of people might experience allergic reactions by contact with one or more of these materials, colors, or finish with the skin.

Hence, if you experience symptoms like itching, redness, swelling, or flaking, it’s ideal to contact a medical professional.


While not an exhaustive list, I hope this article helped you narrow down why earbuds hurt your ears.

The most common way to tackle ear pain is by using your earbuds sparingly. If the issue persists, I recommend switching to lightweight, on-ear, or over-ear headphones.

Have any questions? Please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below.

Featured Image Credit – Freepik

Yash Lizz
Yash Lizz
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