Can Headphones Give You Headaches (Explained!)

Yes, headphones can give you headaches. Prolonged use, especially with high volume or tight-fitting designs, can lead to discomfort and pain.

I’ve felt that nagging pain after hours of wearing my favorite headphones. Maybe you’ve experienced it too? It’s not just about the music or podcasts we love; it’s about how our headphones interact with our heads and ears.

From the pressure they exert to the noise levels they reach, there’s a hidden world of potential problems lurking in those sleek designs. But don’t worry; it’s not all doom and gloom.

In this post, we’ll explore why headphones give you headaches, the common mistakes, and the simple solutions to keep our heads happy.

So, if you’re tired of that throbbing in your temples, stick with me, and let’s dive into a topic that might change how you listen to your favorite tunes.

Can Headphones Give You Headaches

Why Do Headphones Give Me a Headache?

Headphones can give you a headache for several reasons:

1. Too Tight of a Fit

A common issue that can lead to headaches when using headphones is when they fit too tightly on the head. This tight fit can exert pressure on the skull, leading to discomfort and headaches over time. Here are some key considerations:

  • Pressure Points: Headphones that are too tight can create pressure points on the skull, leading to discomfort.
  • Blood Circulation: Reduced blood circulation due to the tight fit can cause headaches.
  • Ear Compression: The ears can also feel compressed, leading to discomfort in and around the ear area.
  • Prevention: Choosing headphones with adjustable headbands and cushioned ear cups can alleviate this issue.

Table: Suggested Headphone Sizes Based on Ear Size

Ear SizeHeadphone SizeNotes
SmallSmall to MediumLook for adjustable bands and soft ear cups.
MediumMediumMost standard headphones should fit well.
LargeLargeEnsure enough space for the ears to fit comfortably.

2. Prolonged Use

Using headphones for extended periods without breaks can lead to headaches for several reasons:

  • Auditory Fatigue: Constant sound input can tire out the auditory nerves, leading to fatigue and headaches.
  • Muscle Strain: Wearing headphones for long periods can strain the muscles around the ears and neck, contributing to tension headaches.
  • Lack of Air Circulation: Prolonged use can reduce air circulation around the ears, leading to a feeling of stuffiness and discomfort.

Tips for Prolonged Use:

  • Take Regular Breaks: It’s recommended to take a break every hour when using headphones to prevent strain.
  • Adjust Volume: Keeping the volume comfortable protects your ears and prevents headaches.
  • Choose Comfortable Headphones: Selecting headphones with cushioned ear cups can enhance comfort during prolonged use.

By being mindful of the fit and taking regular breaks, you can enjoy your favorite tunes or podcasts without the discomfort of headaches.

3. Poorly-Fitting Ear Cups

Poorly-fitting ear cups can create a range of issues, particularly with over-the-ear headphones:

  • Uneven Pressure: Ear cups that don’t fit well can create inconsistent pressure points, leading to discomfort around the earlobes and temples.
  • Sound Leakage: A poor fit may allow sound to escape, reducing audio quality and causing you to turn up the volume, leading to headaches.
  • Chafing and Irritation: Ill-fitting ear cups can rub against the skin, causing chafing and irritation over time.

Choosing the right fit is essential for comfort and optimal audio experience. Here’s a table to guide you:

Table: Fitting and Comfort Level

FittingComfort LevelPotential for Headache
Too LooseLowLow
Just RightHighLow
Too TightLowHigh

4. Pressure on the Inner Ear

With its intricate and delicate structure, the inner ear plays a pivotal role in our hearing and balance. When headphones are used, especially those that have a snug fit or are worn for long durations, they can exert pressure on the inner ear.

This pressure can manifest as a sensation of fullness or blockage in the ears, which can be both distracting and uncomfortable, often leading to headaches if sustained.

Beyond mere discomfort, there’s also a risk of causing damage to the inner ear’s delicate components, such as the tiny hair cells. Damage or undue pressure on these structures can affect not only one’s hearing but also one’s sense of balance.

Some individuals might even experience tinnitus, a condition where they hear a constant ringing or buzzing due to this pressure. This condition can be particularly distressing and contribute to headaches. Especially if the ringing continues after the headphones are removed.

Furthermore, since the inner ear plays a role in maintaining our balance, pressure on it can sometimes lead to feelings of dizziness or imbalance.

To prevent these issues, consider the following:

  • Choose headphones that offer cushioned ear cups.
  • Ensure the headphones fit well without exerting undue pressure.
  • Take regular breaks if using headphones for extended periods.
  • If any symptoms persist or are of concern, seek advice from a healthcare professional.

5. Headphones That Are Not Well-Made

Headphones that are not well-made can lead to a series of problems that may contribute to headaches:

  • Cheap Materials: Low-quality materials can cause more pressure and discomfort on the ears, leading to headaches.
  • Poor Sound Quality: Poorly made headphones often produce a sound that lacks clarity. Straining to hear clearly can lead to discomfort and headaches.
  • Lack of Adjustability: Inflexible headphones that don’t allow for adjustments can create pressure points, contributing to headaches.
  • Short Lifespan: Cheap headphones may break or wear out quickly, leading to inconsistent sound and discomfort.

Tips for Choosing Quality Headphones:

  • Read Reviews: Look for reviews from other users to gauge the quality and comfort of the headphones.
  • Try Before You Buy: If possible, try the headphones in a store to ensure they fit well.
  • Invest in Reputable Brands: Established brands often offer better quality and customer support.

6. Migraines

Migraines are a complex neurological condition, and headphones can play a role in triggering them for some individuals:

  • Sensitivity to Sound: Many migraine sufferers are sensitive to certain sounds or loud noises, which can trigger a migraine attack.
  • Prolonged Exposure: Prolonged exposure to sound through headphones, even at moderate volumes, can be enough to initiate a migraine for susceptible people.
  • Physical Pressure: The physical pressure of the headphones on the head can also be a trigger for some migraine sufferers.

Tips for Migraine Sufferers:

  • Know Your Triggers: Understanding what specific sounds or volumes trigger migraines can help you avoid them.
  • Choose Comfortable Headphones: Wear comfortable headphones with cushioned ear cups and adjustable bands.
  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: If migraines persist, seeking professional medical advice can help you manage triggers and symptoms effectively.

7. External Compression Headache

External compression headaches are caused by any object worn on the head and applying continuous pressure. This can include tight hats, helmets, and, in some cases, headphones. Here’s how:

  • Constant Pressure: Headphones that are too tight can exert continuous pressure on the forehead or scalp, leading to this type of headache.
  • Location-Specific Pain: The pain is usually localized to the area where the pressure is applied.
  • Duration: The headache can last as long as the pressure is applied and often resolves after removing the object causing the stress.
  • Prevention: Choosing headphones with adjustable bands and cushioned ear cups can help prevent this headache.

Table: Symptoms of External Compression Headache

Constant PainPain remains steady and doesn’t pulsate.
Pressure SensationIt feels like something is pressing on the head.
Location-Specific PainPain is localized to the area of pressure.

8. Imbalanced Center of Gravity

Wearing headphones, especially the more significant over-the-ear types, can subtly shift the head’s center of gravity. This shift might seem trivial, but it can have a noticeable impact on comfort and well-being.

The added weight of the headphones, mainly if they are heavy or not positioned evenly, can create an imbalance. This imbalance strains the neck muscles, causing tension and headaches.

Over time, this shift in the center of gravity can also affect posture, causing the head to tilt or lean to compensate for the added weight. Such changes in posture, if sustained, can lead to chronic headaches and other musculoskeletal issues.

The key to avoiding these problems lies in choosing lightweight headphones that distribute weight evenly and maintaining proper posture while wearing them.

9. Amplified Sound

The experience of amplified sound through headphones is both immersive and intense. However, this amplification can have consequences for the listener’s health.

Loud or amplified sounds can overstimulate the auditory system, leading to auditory fatigue and discomfort, which can manifest as headaches. The strain of listening to amplified sound for prolonged periods, even at volumes that might seem acceptable, can be enough to cause discomfort.

Moreover, continuous exposure to loud sounds through headphones can lead to temporary or permanent hearing damage. The risk is exceptionally high if the headphones are used to drown out background noise, leading to higher volume levels.

To enjoy the benefits of amplified sound without the associated risks, it’s advisable to keep the volume at comfortable levels, use noise-canceling headphones if needed, and take regular breaks to allow the ears to rest.

10. External Compression (What does a compression headache feel like)

A compression headache, often caused by external pressure on the head, has distinct characteristics:

  • Feels Like a Band: Many describe a compression headache as feeling like a band tightening around the head.
  • Steady Pain: Unlike other headaches, the pain is constant and doesn’t pulsate.
  • Worsens with Pressure: The headache often worsens with continued pressure and eases when the pressure is removed.
  • Can Be Triggered by Headphones: Tight or heavy headphones exert enough pressure to cause a compression headache.

Table: Compression Headache Characteristics

DurationIt can last from minutes to days.
IntensityMild to moderate.
AggravationWorsens with continued pressure.

11. Sensitivity to Pressure

Pressure sensitivity is a unique factor contributing to headaches when using headphones. Some individuals have heightened sensitivity to physical pressure, making them more susceptible to tight or heavy headphones headaches.

People with chronic pain conditions or disorders that increase sensitivity to touch may find headphones particularly uncomfortable.

Understanding your sensitivity levels and choosing headphones with adjustable bands, cushioned ear cups, and lightweight design can help prevent discomfort.

If symptoms persist, it may be wise to consult a healthcare professional to rule out underlying issues.

12. Individual Factors

Several individual factors can influence whether or not headphones cause headaches:

  • Age: Older individuals might have reduced tolerance to prolonged pressure or loud sounds, leading to headaches.
  • Health Conditions: Chronic health conditions like fibromyalgia or chronic pain syndrome can increase sensitivity to pressure.
  • Previous Injuries: Past head or ear injuries can make one more susceptible to headphone-induced headaches.
  • Personal Preferences: Preferences for sound levels, types of music, and headphone styles can all influence comfort.
  • Lifestyle: How and where you use headphones (e.g., during exercise or in noisy environments) can also impact comfort and the potential for headaches.

Tips for Individualized Comfort:

  • Know Yourself: Understanding your preferences, sensitivities, and any underlying health conditions can guide your choice of headphones.
  • Try Before You Buy: If possible, try headphones to meet your needs before purchasing.
  • Consult Professionals if Needed: Consulting a healthcare or audio professional can help you make the best choice if you have specific health concerns or needs.

How to Prevent Headaches When Using Headphones

Headaches caused by headphones are a common concern for many users. Whether it’s due to fit, prolonged use, or other factors, these headaches can significantly hinder enjoying music, podcasts, or other audio content.

Fortunately, there are several strategies to prevent these headaches:

1. Choose the Right Fit

Choosing the right fit for your headphones is paramount in preventing headaches. Too tight a fit can cause pressure on the skull and ears, while a loose fit may lead to constant readjustment and discomfort.

Look for headphones with adjustable headbands that allow you to find the perfect fit for your head size. Soft, cushioned ear cups can provide comfort and reduce pressure on the ears.

Selecting the correct size based on your ear size is essential, as the wrong size can lead to discomfort. Here’s a table to guide you:

Ear SizeHeadphone SizeNotes
SmallSmall to MediumLook for adjustable bands and soft ear cups.
MediumMediumMost standard headphones should fit well.
LargeLargeEnsure enough space for the ears to fit comfortably.

By paying attention to these factors, you can find comfortable headphones and reduce the risk of headaches.

2. Limit Prolonged Use

Using headphones for extended periods can lead to headaches due to constant pressure on the head and ears, lack of air circulation, and auditory fatigue. Here’s how to prevent these issues:

  • Take Regular Breaks: Removing the headphones every hour allows your ears to rest and prevents discomfort.
  • Monitor Volume Levels: Keeping the volume comfortable helps prevent auditory fatigue, which can contribute to headaches.
  • Choose Breathable Materials: Headphones with breathable materials can reduce warmth and sweating around the ears.
  • Be Mindful of Surroundings: In a noisy environment, noise-canceling headphones can help you keep the volume comfortable without increasing it to drown out background noise.

3. Opt for Quality Headphones

Opting for quality headphones is not just about enjoying superior sound; it’s also about comfort and health. Quality headphones are designed with ergonomics and user comfort in mind.

Features like noise-canceling can reduce the need to increase the volume in noisy environments, thus protecting your ears. Well-made headphones also tend to have cushioning and adjustable features that allow for a personalized fit, reducing the risk of headaches.

Investing in quality headphones that suit your needs and preferences can enhance your audio experience and prevent discomfort. Remember, quality doesn’t always mean expensive; research and try different models to find the one that fits your budget and needs.

4. Be Mindful of Sound Levels

Being mindful of sound levels is crucial in preventing headaches and protecting hearing. Listening to audio at high volumes for extended periods can lead to auditory fatigue and even permanent hearing damage.

Here’s a table to guide you on safe listening levels:

Volume Level (dB)Recommended Listening TimeNotes
858 hoursOccupational safety standard for noise exposure.
902 hoursReduce listening time at this level.
10015 minutesRisky level; avoid prolonged exposure.
  • Use Equalizer Settings: Adjusting the sound settings to your preference can enhance comfort.
  • Avoid Excessive Amplification: Keep the volume at a level where you can enjoy the audio without straining your ears.
  • Use Noise-Canceling Features if Needed: In a noisy environment, noise-canceling headphones can help you keep the volume comfortable.

By being aware of sound levels and making conscious choices, you can enjoy your audio content without risking headaches or hearing damage.

5. Consider Your Individual Needs and Sensitivities

Everyone has unique needs and sensitivities that can influence their comfort when using headphones. Considering these factors can help prevent headaches:

  • Know Your Sensitivities: If you have specific sensitivities or health conditions, such as chronic pain or skin allergies, consider them when choosing headphones.
  • Consult Professionals if Needed: Healthcare or audio professionals can provide personalized recommendations based on your needs.
  • Consider Lifestyle and Usage: How and where you use headphones (e.g., during exercise, in noisy environments) can impact comfort. Choose models that align with your lifestyle.
  • Try Before You Buy: If possible, try headphones before purchasing to meet your needs.

Understanding and considering your unique needs and sensitivities allows you to select headphones that provide comfort and enjoyment without causing headaches.

6. Maintain Proper Posture

Maintaining proper posture while using headphones is essential to prevent strain and discomfort.

An imbalanced center of gravity caused by heavy or unevenly positioned headphones can lead to poor posture and headaches. Here’s a table to guide you on maintaining proper posture:

Headphone WeightChoose lightweight headphonesReduces strain on neck muscles.
Ergonomic DesignOpt for ergonomically designed headphonesAligns with the natural shape of your head and ears.
PositioningEnsure even positioning on the headPrevents imbalance and strain.
Breaks and ExercisesTake regular intervals and do neck exercisesIt helps alleviate any stress and keeps muscles relaxed.
  • Avoid Imbalanced Center of Gravity: Choose lightweight headphones and be mindful of how they sit on your head to prevent strain.
  • Consider Ergonomic Options: Ergonomically designed headphones can provide additional comfort.

Maintaining proper posture and being mindful of how your headphones fit and sit on your head can prevent headaches and enjoy a more comfortable listening experience.


Q: Do over-ear headphones cause headaches?

A: Over-ear headphones can put pressure on your head and ears, especially if they are too tight or if you’re wearing them for an extended period. This pressure can create headaches.

Q: Can using noise-cancelling headphones cause headaches?

A: While noise-cancelling headphones can provide a more immersive listening experience, wearing them for a long time can sometimes result in headaches. The pressure and clamp force of noise-cancelling headphones can contribute to this discomfort.

Q: How can I wear headphones without getting a headache?

A: To minimize the chances of getting a headache while using headphones, make sure you choose a pair of headphones that fit your head comfortably. Avoid wearing headphones for extended periods, take breaks, and give your ears and head some rest.

Q: What should I do if my headphones are causing headaches?

A: If you experience headaches when using your headphones, try adjusting them to reduce pressure on your head and ears. If you can’t adjust your headphones properly or the pain persists, try a different pair of headphones that fit better.

Q: Are over-ear headphones more likely to cause headaches than other headphones?

A: Over-ear headphones tend to put more pressure on your head and ears because they cover the entire ear. However, this doesn’t mean that other types of headphones, such as earbuds or headsets, cannot cause headaches if misused or for an extended period.

Q: Can my headphones cause headaches if they don’t fit properly?

A: Yes, if your headphones are unfitted or don’t fit well with your ear shape, they may put extra pressure on your head and ears, leading to headaches. Finding headphones with the right fit is essential to prevent discomfort.

Q: How long is it okay to wear headphones?

A: There is no exact time limit, but it is recommended to take breaks and not wear headphones for an extended period without giving your ears and head some rest. Everyone’s tolerance is different, so listening to your body and taking breaks when needed is essential.

Final Thoughts

Headphones have become a part of my daily life. But headaches? They caught me off guard.

Finding the right fit, limiting use, choosing quality, and being mindful of sound levels made a difference. Individual needs and posture mattered too.

Now, I listen in comfort. No more headaches. It’s about understanding, adapting, and enjoying the sound: simple changes, a significant relief.