Why Do Headphones Give You A Headache? 4 Easy Solutions

There’s nothing worse than getting a raging headache after only a few minutes of jamming to your favorite tunes on a pair of headphones. Every audiophile dreams of wearing headphones for long durations without having to deal with headaches and painful ears.

Due to being isolated inside our homes because of the constant lockdowns from the Covid-19 pandemic, we utilize headphones more and more these days for virtual meetings and classes. All this extra time spent wearing headphones has contributed to a greater frequency of headaches.

This makes many people suffering from headwear-related headaches wonder, though, why do headphones give me a headache? And are there any easy fixes to prevent such headaches?

The answer briefly is that headphones associated with headaches could be for two significant reasons: external compression from the headphones or listening to audio at significantly high volumes for long durations of time.

If you often are forced to take over-the-counter painkillers to battle the headaches and pain caused by headphones, then don’t worry; this post was made with you in mind. 

This post will help answer the question, why do headphones give me a headache? As well as a few easy tips and fixes you could keep in mind before your next jamming session. So let’s dig in.

The Most Common Cause: External Compression Headaches

Who do headphones give me a headache? Well, the most common reason is often external compression.

Inadequate padding and strong clamping forces due to a tight fit can lead to overstimulation of nerves present on the surface of your head because of the applied pressure. 

This nervous stimulation can lead to external compression headachesThis is why many individuals experience characteristic headache-like symptoms when wearing headphones too small for their heads.

When worn for long durations, Tight headphones can place significant amounts of pressure on the temporal bone and your ears, which can lead to headaches. A few individuals, such as those suffering from migraines, are more likely to experience headaches due to these compressive forces than others.

Fortunately, these types of headaches don’t often last for very long and go away soon after taking off your headset or just taking a painkiller. However, a small number of individuals have reported experiencing “phantom headaches” in more extreme cases. These headaches can occur even when not wearing headphones at all.

High Volumes For Prolonged Durations

Most of us enjoy turning up the volume whenever our favorite track comes on, but turning up the volume to significantly high levels for prolonged durations can have some seriously detrimental effects. 

Sound waves travel through our ear canals towards the eardrum. Inside the eardrum lies a liquid-filled chamber known as the cochlea, with multiple tiny hair-like projections called auditory hairs. As sound waves enter, they hit these tiny hairs, and their deflection is translated into auditory nervous signals sent to the brain.

Listening to music that is too loud can make these hairs and the cochlea vibrate at unsafe levels. If the hairs move with too much space due to high volumes, they have a chance to become injured and lose function. This study found evidence of headaches occurring due to listening to audio for prolonged durations in a significant number of participants.

This is one of the reasons high volumes can lead to headaches and even mild or severe hearing loss. Sounds below 70dBA are considered safe auditory levels, and anything above 85dBA will usually result in some form of hearing loss over time. 

A Few Easy Solutions To Get Rid Of Headphone Headaches

Here are four easy solutions to prevent those annoying headaches from occurring in the first place:

1. Reduce The Listening Time

Probably the easiest fix to battle headphone headaches is to tone down on time spent listening to music. Limiting exposure to only hour-long intervals and taking breaks between sessions is the safest way to protect yourself from unwanted headaches. This gives time for your ears and muscles around the temples to relax. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends listening to music only for up to an hour a day. 

2. Reduce The Volume

Many of us are tempted to boost the volume to the max on our headphones. When we notice noise from our background slipping or when a banger track comes on. But considering that some smartphones and music players can reach levels as high as 115 decibels, always be sure to never fall for that temptation and use high volumes for long durations. 

Chronic exposure to sound above 85db often results in some form of hearing loss over time. Due to our headphones being in such proximity to our ears, there’s a high chance of damaging the nerves and cochlea inside the ears. Such damage can lead to mild or severe headaches and cause irreversible damage to our hearing.

To be on the safe side, always keep the volume levels under 60%, as recommended by the WHO. You should also train your ears to get used to listening to lower volumes in general. Listening to lower books can help reduce the risk of facing permanent hearing problems ahead. Your ears will indeed thank you for it in the long run.

3. Adjust Or If Needed Replace Your Headphones

Everyone’s head shape is different, and that’s why many brands make headphones with adjustable straps. Minor changes and adjustments to help your headphone sit nicely on your head can do wonders for your compression headache problems. 

There are no specific guidelines for this part though, adjust the headset to your preference until it feels comfortable on your head and ears.

Just make sure your headset is never too tight. Tight headphones can cause unnecessary and excessive clamping forces on your head and scalp, resulting in headaches. 

If, despite numerous adjustments, the headphone still gives you a pounding headache, it might be better to replace the headset entirely and get a more comfortable pair. On-ear headphones, in particular, are more likely to cause headaches due to the direct pressure they apply on your ears and glasses (if you wear any). 

A better alternative could be over-ear headphones that can fit snugly over your ear without creating pressure points and are generally more comfortable overall.

4. Stop Wearing Headphones As Often

If everything else fails and you still find yourself suffering from headaches after headphone use, it might be a sign from your body telling you to tone down on your habits. Headphone headaches subside some time after taking them off, but if it happens every time, you should consider limiting your headphone usage.

Always take off your headphones when not using them to keep the exposure time to a minimum. 

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