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Why Do Headphones Hurt My Ears

by Kristin Beck
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Why Do Headphones Hurt My Ears

Why Do Headphones Hurt My Ears

“You’ve just got home from work and are sitting down on your couch with your laptop in hand when you notice an annoying sound coming from somewhere behind you. You’re not sure where it’s coming from because you haven’t heard anything like this before — it sounds kind of muffled but also high-pitched. It seems to be coming from one particular pair of headphones…
So you pull out your new favorite pair of Beats by Dre, put them over your ears, and realize they don’t fit properly. The tips of the headphones have been bent so far back that they now sit right at the top of your head! They hurt! But how did they end up in such an uncomfortable position? And what else is going on here?
The answer lies in understanding how headphones actually work. When we talk about headphones, we tend to focus on two things: making noise canceling possible (or improving existing ANC) and creating comfortable listening environments. But there are some other important considerations as well, including protecting our ears from unnecessary physical stress. In fact, the reason why headphones can appear twisted or deformed in our heads is due to the way the earcups interact with the sensitive parts of our ears.
When most people think of headphones, they probably envision something simple: big plastic cups with a wire attached to each side for audio connection. These kinds of headphones were once all the rage, but today’s models take many more factors into account, especially when considering their design. For example, consider the size of your face, eyes and jaw. If you wear glasses, then you’ll need to factor those into the equation as well. This means that even if you find a pair of headphones that looks great on the shelf, they might not look quite right once you try wearing them. Not only do these extra factors make designing headphones harder, but they also increase the chances that users will experience problems.
This doesn’t mean that headphone manufacturers give up on trying to create better designs. Companies like Monster continue to release headphones with smaller earcups that allow for greater freedom of movement. However, the downside is that your ears may feel less protected. So while they might help improve comfort, they also come with increased risks of physical injury.
As much as we want to protect ourselves from hearing loss, there’s no denying that exposure to loud noises has negative effects on us. Studies show that long-term exposure to loud noises can lead to permanent hearing loss. Hearing protection devices like earplugs and earmuffs reduce the amount of sound reaching our ears, which helps mitigate potential damage. Unfortunately, neither of these options provides complete protection against excessive volume levels. That’s where headphones come in.
How Headphones Work

Inside Your Ears

Protecting Our Ears From Excess Volume Levels

Author’s Note

How Headphones Work

Most headphones use a flexible cable to connect the left and right speakers together. Typically, the wires inside the cable are made out of thick copper strands covered with rubber insulation. A small piece of metal near the tip of the cable makes contact with the actual speaker unit itself. On either end of the cable is another connector designed specifically for plugging the device into power sources. Depending upon the type of headset, these connectors might include both analog and digital connections.
There are three main types of headphones: closed, open and circumaural. Closed headphones completely seal off the wearer’s external environment, preventing any sound waves from leaking through. Open headphones leave holes along the sides of the headband to let air pass freely in and out. Circumaural headphones cover almost the entire outer surface of the ear, allowing sound to travel directly to the eardrum without interference.
Now that we know how headphones work, let’s move onto the next page to see exactly why they can twist themselves into odd shapes in our minds.
Inside Your Ears
In order for headphones to function correctly, they must be able to effectively transmit signals between the internal components of the device. In order to accomplish this task, several different signals must cross paths within the circuitry. To ensure that signals aren’t lost or distorted, manufacturers must carefully plan out the layout of electronic components. This is particularly true for headphones with high-end features like active noise cancellation.
Since the goal of ANC is to filter out unwanted background noise, designers must place microphones closer together for superior audio recording capabilities. Meanwhile, the signal processing circuit requires additional space to operate properly. Both of these requirements place limitations on the overall size of the headphones.
Because of these constraints, headphones often feature multiple microphone elements located in various areas throughout the casing. Some headphones employ a separate microphone element for each ear cup. Other headsets use one large microphone instead. Still others rely on tiny microphones placed at strategic points throughout the interior structure of the headphones. By combining all of these individual signals, the headphones can produce a better stereo effect than ever before.
On the next page, we’ll discuss the unique challenges headphones present to our ears.
Protecting Our Ears From Excess Volume Levels

While most of us enjoy listening to music or podcasts at volumes similar to the average conversation, some individuals prefer louder music or higher decibel levels. As a result, millions of people listen to music through headphones every day. While this practice poses little danger to our hearing when done responsibly, the same cannot be said for some common activities like exercising.
Exercising too hard or too frequently can cause significant damage to the middle area of the ear known as the tympanic membrane. This thin layer sits directly beneath the air sacs found in the concha and protects them from the force of impact. Over time, repeated trauma caused by exercise can permanently deform this fragile tissue.
If enough pressure builds up underneath the tympanic membrane, it can rupture. Once this happens, fluid from the middle ear begins to leak out into the surrounding tissues. This can trigger infections and inflammation. Worse yet, the loose flap of dead cells, mucus and blood clots that forms after the rupture can block the entrance to the ear canal, resulting in deafness.
To prevent this occurrence, experts recommend limiting exercise sessions to 30 minutes per session and lowering the volume of music played during workouts. Wearers should also immediately seek medical attention after suffering a blow to the ear. Taking preventive measures now will greatly reduce the likelihood of future complications.
For more information on headphones and related topics, please visit the next page.
Author’s Note
I remember the very first pair of headphones I had. They were white and corded, and looked sort of strange sticking out of my head. Back then, I was oblivious to the dangers inherent in using a pair of headphones that didn’t conform to proper ergonomic standards. Nowadays, I’m aware of the risks associated with improper earcup fitting, but sometimes I forget. Next time I’ll keep my eyes peeled for twists and bends in my favorite pairs of headphones.


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