Do Headphones Cause Headaches?

Headache causing Beats headphones with leopard print and day of the dead covers



Many of us wear our headphones for extended periods. 

We wear them to the gym when we’re working out, when we’re gaming, commuting or when we’re listening to a playlist, album or podcast.  If you’re using your headphones regularly, then you might already be experiencing discomfort so why do headphones cause headaches?


Do headphones affect the brain?

Most headphones won’t affect the brain but you can buy headphones that can change the brain through a process known as neuropriming.

Neuropriming is when small electrical pulses are transmitted into the brain, putting it into a state of hyper-learning and increasing physical and mental ability.  There’s some controversy about whether neuropriming actually works and whether it’s safe to use but the headphones are becoming increasingly popular with pro athletes wearing them to get an edge over their competitors.

Regular headphones don’t have this function.


Do wireless headphones affect the brain?

There’s mixed opinion about whether wireless headphones affect the brain.  Bluetooth is a form of low-level radiation and there have been several reports suggesting that it could be dangerous to human health, but there’s never been conclusive evidence and, realistically, we experience low-level radiation everyday; we use it to microwave our food and we’re exposed to it when we get on long-haul flights and even through cosmic radiation when we walk outside.

We’ve written a longer post on this before but essentially, the radiation emitted from wireless devices is non-ionizing and doesn’t seem to be strong enough to impact human health.


Do noise-cancelling headphones affect the brain?

Noise cancelling headphones can cause dizzy spells and a general feeling of being unwell but this appears related to motion sickness.  The soundwaves used to counteract incoming sounds can trick the brain into thinking the head is moving and this can leave people feeling unwell.

If you’re worried about how headphones can affect your health, then it’s also worth bearing in mind that regularly listening to audio at loud volumes can lead to permanent hearing loss which is a well researched and well documented effect of how headphones can cause health problems.


Do headphones cause headaches?

Headphones are unlikely to affect the brain but if your head is hurting when you wear them then you may be experiencing external compression headaches.  Compression headaches are defined by the Mayo Clinic as occurring ‘when something worn on your head puts continuous pressure on your forehead or scalp’.

It’s not just headphones that cause this.  If you’ve ever had to wear a safety helmet for a few hours or even a tight baseball cap, you might be familiar with the feeling.

Headphones use a clamping force to keep them on your head. 

This clamping effect keeps them in place on your ears and stops them sliding off. It’s usually felt on the head or on the ears and it can be very uncomfortable and even painful. To reduce the clamping effect you should adjust the headband so that it’s not so tight.  You can also try stretching them out over the carry case or the box they came in. This helps them to remember the size of your head and should make them more comfortable.  If you’re stretching them out, go carefully.  You don’t want to break them or overstretch them.

If you’re wearing glasses, then the pressure of the headphones on the arm can cause headaches. The thicker the arm the more pressure there is and the more likely it is that you’ll feel it.  Adjusting your glasses could help or swapping them out for a different pair with thinner arms could improve your comfort.

Compression headaches will often quickly disappear if you take the headphones off but that’s not always ideal especially if you’re gaming or wearing them when traveling and using noise-cancelling headphones in an open-plan office and then taking them off could open you up to distractions.  We’d recommend trying to adjust the headphones and then carefully stretching them.  Some people add foam to the headband, too.


Do Headphones Cause Other Issues?

Headphones can cause headaches and it can be frustrating for those who enjoy listening to audio for extended periods but it’s not just headaches that we need to be mindful of when we’re wearing our headphones and headsets.

You should also try to keep your volume at 60% or less in order to reduce the chance of permanent hearing loss.  If you do listen at a higher volume, then you should take regular breaks.  You might benefit from a noise-cancelling headphones which should reduce the need to crank up the volume to overlay ambient noise. 

If you sweat when you’re wearing headphones, you can also add a form of headphone protection to keep moisture away from your earpads.  Sweat is corrosive and can damage the headphone’s cushions causing the material to flake and peel. Adding moisture-proof covers will also keep your headphones smelling fresh which could save you the headache of buying another pair —  even if your current ones are literally giving your compression headaches.






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