Apple AirPods are easily among the most popular earbuds worldwide. Apple prides itself on high build quality, excellent sound quality, and most importantly, ergonomic design and user-friendliness.
In most scenarios, this is true. But, some users can have trouble enjoying their Apple AirPods due to discomfort. So, do AirPods hurt your ears?
That’s why I’ve decided to go through the major causes of discomfort with the AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. I will also share some proven solutions which might help alleviate your discomfort. So, without further ado, let’s get started with…
Why AirPods Can Hurt Your Ears?
Honestly, it is beyond the scope of this article to explain all the reasons for AirPods hurting your ears or causing discomfort. But, I will be covering four of the most talked-about causes.
- Your AirPods do not fit your ears properly.
- You are not wearing the AirPods correctly.
- You have had AirPods in your ears for too long.
- Ear infections/other medical reasons.
Your AirPods Do Not Fit Your Ears Properly
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort after inserting your Airpods. Or, after a while of wearing them, it could be because the shape of the tips is not well-matched to your ear.
Strange as this may seem, like your fingerprint, your ears are unique. Therefore, we need to account for the size and unique profile of your inner ears. This can have a drastic impact on how the AirPods fit.
As accommodating as Apple tries to be, they only make the tips in standard sizes. When this size issue occurs, pain and discomfort result from the hard plastic being forced against the soft skin of the inner ear. Furthermore, the cartilage can also be stressed, which is even more painful.
Hits and misses…
When the AirPods Pro came around, users were rewarded with a bit of variety at least. The AirPods Pro shipped with three different sizes of tips. While users did report an increase in comfort and sound quality, a small number of people said they experience discomfort when wearing the AirPods.
The Airpods Max, unfortunately, received even worse feedback despite Apple’s total redesign for a very ergonomic form and fit.
Users complained about the uncomfortably strong clamping force of the Airpods Max. In some cases, this even resulted in users experiencing headaches, as well as pain around the temples and behind their ears.
You Are Not Wearing AirPods Correctly
This might come across as me trying to insult the intelligence of my readers, but it is possible. Furthermore, wearing AirPods incorrectly not only has a detrimental effect on the sound quality but will also cause discomfort to the wearer.
AirPods, like all Apple products, are designed to be ergonomic. Therefore, they should conform to the shape of your ear. And, be balanced in such a way as to cause minimum strain while you’re wearing them. If they are incorrectly forced into the ear, they will cause discomfort and even injury.
Also, when the Airpods are worn incorrectly, they are not likely to fit snugly in the ear. This means they are more likely to be dislodged and fall out of your ears. Do AirPods hurt your ears? The first thing to check is if you are wearing them properly.
You Had Airpods In Your Ears For Too Long
As ergonomic as Apple tries to make their earbuds, they are not made to be worn forever. If you keep your AirPods in your ears for too long, they are likely to start chafing against the sensitive inner skin of your ear. Also, they can begin to cause itchiness due to sweat building up.
If this is not reason enough to avoid wearing them for too long, then the fact that wearing any earphones for too long can cause permanent damage to your ears should be.
Being exposed to loud sounds in your ears for too long can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. When you do so daily for long periods, you are increasing your risk. Symptoms like ear pain and ringing in the ears are bad signs.
What should you do?
To avoid any potential damage to your hearing, it is recommended that you do not keep AirPods in your ears for longer than 90 minutes. When removing them, it is a good idea to massage your ears for a few minutes. Make sure you take a break for at least ten minutes before resuming your listening.
Ear Infections/Other Medical reasons
In most cases, ill-fitting earphones and/or wearing them for long periods are the main reasons why AirPods can hurt your ears. However, one can never rule out everything completely, so don’t think that you are beyond an ear infection.
Infection or not?
The most common way to tell if you have an ear infection is that you will continue to feel pain or discomfort when not wearing your AirPods. You will feel a lumpiness or swelling inside your ear canal or inner earlobe. If the infection gets worse, you might even notice discharge.
These kinds of infections can result from a variety of things. Most notably, it will result from users sticking them too deep into their ears, and wearing them for too long. That’s because this seals off your ear canal.
Therefore, it causes a build-up of moisture and humidity, which is the ideal environment for bacteria to grow and fester.
Something else to consider…
If you often share your AirPods, infections can result if they are not properly cleaned while being passed to and fro. That said, properly cleaning them regularly is important even if you’re the only user.
How To Prevent AirPods From Hurting Your Ears
So, we have some answers to our initial question, “Do AirPods hurt your ears?” Now, let’s move on to how to prevent AirPods from causing pain or discomfort while wearing them.
Wear Your Airpods Correctly
Learning how to wear AirPods correctly can go a long way in maintaining healthy ears. As well as the AirPods themselves. This is doubly true if you are someone who wears them daily for long periods.
Airpods are designed to rest on the earlobe rather than in the ear canal. But, it is still possible to damage your ear by simply shoving them in there without taking care to make sure you’re doing it properly. Here are some great tips on how to wear Airpods correctly.
Wipe the Airpods down before wearing them
Using a cotton swab, carefully wipe away any residues on the ear tips. A solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol should do nicely for this job. Just take care not to overdose the swab and cause liquid leakage to get on the speakers.
A clean surface will ensure a better seal as well as a sturdier grip on the skin. Most importantly, it will minimize the risk of any infections.
Look for the L and R marks on your AirPods
Some internet buffs will tell you that the L and R markings on your AirPods are meaningless. But, it’s better to believe the smart folks over at Apple; they know what they are doing.
Look on your AirPods for the L and R markings to indicate the correct ear placement, and place the earbuds in the correct ear for the best experience.
Gently insert the AirPods into your ears
Take care not to use excessive force. Gently press the tips of the AirPods into your ears, and make sure that the stems are vertically aligned with your head.
If you struggle to picture this, then imagine arrows on the tips of the stems. Those arrows need to be pointing down. This is very important, so don’t proceed if you are unsure in any way.
Rotate the earphones to wedge them in your ears
Again, take care not to use excessive force. You will feel the tips conform to the shape of your inner ear, rotate the earphones until they are secure enough and the stem is vertically aligned. Then, wedge them one last time a bit forward so that they are aligned with your jawline.
Use a mirror if you need to. This will leave you in no doubt as to whether they have been inserted properly.
Wear One At a Time
Sometimes a pair of AirPods can be like a new pair of shoes. You will have to do some wearing before they become comfortable. This could mean that you will have to endure some slight discomfort for a while. Eventually, though, the pain and discomfort will subside.
However, it is important to note that the 90-minute rule that I mentioned earlier still applies. So don’t go getting into bed with the AirPods in your ears.
If you are finding this process particularly discomforting, it could be a good idea to try wearing the earphones one at a time. Alternating between the two is a great way to break them in. Luckily, the Airpods can operate in Mono Mode.
How To Prevent AirPods Pro From Damaging Your Ears
The AirPods Pro saw Apple attempt to give more variety to their users. These are larger than the first three generations, but they do ship with three different size ear tips to help users find their ideal fit more easily.
Despite this, it is still possible that a small percentage of users may experience discomfort or pain. So, here are some tips and tricks to try if you are one of those few.
Wearing the AirPods Pro correctly
The silicone-based ear tips did change things a bit when it came to properly wearing these earbuds. Here are the steps you should follow to ensure an optimal fit for AirPods Pro.
- Check the size of your chosen ear tips. Not everyone knows this, but Apple marks the silicone ear tips if you need to check their size. All you have to do is flip the outside flap of the ear tip upward, and you will find a small S, M, or L on the base. By default, the AirPods Pro comes with medium-sized tips; the small and large tips are in the packaging.
- Attach the silicone tips properly. To make sure the AirPods Pro sits as it should, you need to ensure the tips are properly attached to the buds. This is especially important if you’ve swapped out your tips for another size. When you attach the new tip, line up the sizing letter with the black vent on the earphone and then push them together. You should be rewarded with a satisfying click when you’ve attached the tip properly.
- Insert your AirPods Pro using the press, rotate, and wedge technique. Just like you would insert any earbuds using an in-ear tip design, you need to gently press the buds into your ear and then rotate them so that they wedge in your ear and form a seal.
Select the right size tip
As mentioned earlier, the Air Pods Pro ship with three ear tip sizes to help users find their ideal fit. Taking care to make sure you have the right size tip for your ear can go a long way in improving the listening experience and comfort.
Lucky for us, Apple has the ear tip fit test. This neat little feature can easily help you make the right decision. To use the ear tip fit test, you need to have iOS or iPadOS 13.2 or later installed on your device.
Here are the steps to follow:
- Put the earphones in your ears and connect them to your phone or tablet.
- Go to settings and select Bluetooth; your AirPods will be listed among the devices there. Select the “i” inside a circle that appears next to the device’s name.
- Once you’ve opened the information screen for your AirPods, you can select “Ear Tip Fit Test.”
- Should the test suggest that you try a different size tip, then swap your tips for another set and follow the steps again to repeat the ear tip fit test. There are also cases where users end up using different sizes for the left and right ears.
Get some third-party ear tips
It is possible that even after trying all the different size ear tips and taking care to wear the AirPods Pro correctly, you are still experiencing pain and discomfort when wearing them. This might be a good time to consider getting some third-party ear tips.
The best AirPods Pro ear tip alternatives are going to be memory foam ear tips. The material is even more pliable than silicone. Therefore, it can adapt even better to the inside of your ear. This will not only ensure a more secure fit but much more comfortable as well.
A good example of this would be the Apple Airpods Pro Ear Tips from Comply Foam. These are some of the best quality memory foam tips you can buy. They sit more securely and comfortably and create a more effective seal which makes for better noise isolation.
Stop AirPods Max From Hurting Your Ears
Unlike every generation of AirPods and the Airpods Pro, the Airpods Max was a complete redo. They re-emerged as premium over-ear headphones. This new form was welcomed by many fans and remains popular. But, like all things, it does have its issues.
The excessive clamping force of the headband and the ear cushions are chief complaints by users. Here are some things to try if your AirPods Max is hurting your ears.
Stretch the headband
If you feel the clamping force of the headband is excessive, you can remedy this by stretching them out. This can be done using innumerable household objects like a stack of books, basketballs, cardboard boxes, and even a large dumbbell.
Keep in mind that an amount of clamping force is necessary to ensure a secure fit. However, if they are uncomfortably tight, it will not be possible to wear them for long periods. And, if you do, you might get headaches or even migraines. So, here are the steps to stretch out your AirPods Max:
- Measure the object you want to use for stretching the headband. Try to get something a bit wider than your head is at its widest part. Place the object on a flat surface or secure it to a spot if it’s something like a basketball.
- Take care not to overstretch the headband, and pull the left and right ear cups apart.
- Stretch the headphones over the object and gently let them clamp to the sides. They should stay in position after you’ve placed them there.
- Leave your AirPods Max on the object to stretch for 24 to 48 hours. Should your particular headband be thicker and stiffer, you can leave them on to stretch for a bit longer.
If you are still not satisfied…
Try swapping your stretching object for something that is wider and repeating the process. If you are still not satisfied, you can use your hands to stretch the headphones out to their full capacity. However, I only recommend this if you feel there is no other alternative.
Start by stretching them for short periods and never take it too far. That can result in the headband cracking or snapping.
Replace the earpads
The Apple Airpods Max ships with large earpads designed to be a comfortable and secure fit for as many users as possible. They are made from PET textile-covered polyurethane memory foam.
That being said, it’s impossible to make something that is perfect. Some users have noted being allergic to some of the materials and fibers in the ear pads. Other users simply note that the material isn’t breathable, so the ears get sweaty after long periods of wearing the headphones.
Luckily, there are other options available…
One of the best that I’ve come across is made by Link Dream. These are fantastic premium-quality ear pads that will improve the comfort of your AirPods Max twofold.
These ear pads are made from leather and something called acoustic memory foam. The idea is to give you the perfect mix between sound quality and uncompromising comfort. The Link Dream ear pads are easy to install due to the small magnets that attach to the inner magnet of the AirPods Max.
Something to note: Replacing your AirPods Max ear pads may well result in a subtle to a dramatic change in sound. So, if you buy good-quality third-party pads, you’ll most likely notice an improvement. However, the inverse will also be true if you buy cheaply-made pads.
Good Quality and Comfy AirPods Alternatives
So, do AirPods hurt your ears still? Perhaps you’ve gone through every possibility in this guide, and you still are experiencing some discomfort. Well then, it might be time to start looking at alternatives. Here are a few of the best that I’ve come across.
Shure’s reputation for quality audio is unquestionable. With the Aonic 215, they’ve applied years of microphone and IEM design to bring you a set of wireless earbuds that have impeccable sound and are a great fit.
The design is a bit strange; I’ll grant you. But, it’s been balanced perfectly to make for a very secure fit. These will stay in your ears even if you’re an acrobat. They have astonishing 32-hour battery life and offer incredible sound.
Find out more in our in-depth Shure Aonic 215 Gen 2 Review.
For those who like things compact but also enjoy a bit of style, the Soundcre Life P3s might be the way to go. They are more compact than the AirPods and much more lightweight. They are shipped in a variety of great colors to suit your taste, and they’re competitively priced as well.
The P3s are praised for their fantastic mic quality and excellent noise isolation. They feature a six-microphone design and a dedicated algorithm for noise-canceling in the background. This ensures crystal clear voice quality. The companion app and sound quality are just as impressive.
Jabra has gained quite a reputation for fantastic wireless earbuds. The company’s attitude is bold and ambitious, just like their products.
These earbuds are probably some of the most compact you’ll find on the market. But don’t let that fool you. They are very well built, and you can feel that when you hold one in your hand.
The fit and comfort of the Elite 75t are on par with the best. Likewise, the compact design makes for a snug fit and a less awkward look than most earbuds. They have a battery life of up to 24 hours. And the companion app has very intuitive features for operation and excellent sound customization.
Find out how good they are in our in-depth review of the Jabra Elite Active 75t.
Have More Questions about AirPods?
We can help with that. Take a look at our detailed articles on Simple Tips to Keep AirPods From Falling Out, Can Reset AirPods Be Tracked, AirPods Blinking Orange? How to Fix It, Do AirPods Work Well on Android Devices, and How to Clean Your AirPods Pro for more useful information.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Apple AirPods Pro Alternatives, the Best iPhone Earbuds, the Best AirPods Alternative, the Best Wireless Earbuds For Small Ears, the Most Comfortable Earbuds, as well as the Best True Wireless Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Do AirPods Hurt Your Ears – Final Thoughts
When you’ve spent premium money to get premium earbuds, it’s quite frustrating if you struggle to find a comfortable fit. Even worse, if you experience discomfort or pain when you wear your AirPods.
Luckily, you don’t have to give up on them right away. Take care to select the right size tips, make sure to wear them correctly, and always keep them clean.
If you need to, swap out your tips or cushions with one of the many fine third-party options available out there. And, if all else fails, you can always invest in one of the many alternatives out there.
Until next time, happy listening.