In-Ear vs Over-Ear Headphones’ Health Risks

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Updated October 31, 2022

Safety is essential when it comes to the best headphones. Any loud noise can cause problems for your ears, and comparing in-ear vs. over-ear headphones’ health risks will help you decide what style is safest, as even the best over-ear headphones can become problematic under the right circumstances. Keep reading to find out which style is better suited to you health-wise.


  • Both headphones are capable of loud volume levels, so you’ll need to ensure you’re not listening at dangerous levels.
  • Earbuds can cause ear infections if not kept clean. While cleanliness is important for all types of headphones, over-ear headphones fare better here.
  • Over-ear headphones tend to have more safety features than earbuds.

In-Ear vs Over-Ear Headphones Safety and Health

When it comes to your health, some types of headphones might not be the best option. It is crucial to figure out what styles pose the least amount of risk so you can purchase with confidence.

Insider Tip

Keep your listening volume to less than 85 decibels to protect your hearing.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

The first category is crucial to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, and both types of headphones are equal here. Quality headphones of either type will produce extremely high volume levels. The trick is to ensure that you’re not listening at maximum volume. Some devices, like the Apple iPhone, have a feature that will tell you if you’re listening at a level that will damage your hearing.

Of course, earbuds present a greater danger than over-ear models. Because they sit inside your ear canal, they pump sound directly to your eardrum, which is far more damaging than if you were listening to the same sound levels with over-ear headphones. On that note, you may also want to compare circumaural vs. over-ear models.

Potential for Infection

Overall, ear health is also essential to consider. Although rare, earbuds present an increased risk of ear infection than over-ear models, especially if they’re not regularly cleaned. The way they seal off your ear canal creates a warm, humid environment that is perfect for any bacteria or fungi introduced by dirty earbuds to grow in your ears. This makes over-ear headphones the safer bet, as they allow for more airflow (though you should still take breaks to let your ears breathe). Another great comparison is in-ear vs. over-ear noise-canceling headphones.


Failing to clean your earbuds and headphones can result in ear infections and ear wax compaction.

Added Safety Features

Headphone manufacturers are constantly figuring out new ways to protect you from noise-induced hearing loss or other health and safety issues. For example, some brands include a volume limiter that keeps your volume from passing safe levels. However, it is more common for over-ear headphones to have safer features than their in-ear counterparts because of their size. If you enjoyed this article, you’d also enjoy comparing over-ear headphones vs. earbuds.

In-Ear Vs. Over-Ear Headphones FAQs

Do headphones or earbuds cause hearing loss?

Absolutely! Exposing your ears to high-volume music or any other sound, especially through headphones or earbuds, can indeed cause hearing loss. It may not be noticeable at first, but exposure to even just one brief instance of unsafe sound levels can irreversibly affect your hearing.

What volume levels are safe for hearing?

Prolonged exposure (over 8 hours) to sound levels above 85 decibels (about the same loudness as heavy traffic) can adversely affect your hearing. Of course, it can occur during shorter listening sessions, too. For example, music played at 120 decibels will immediately damage your hearing.

How do I know if my sound level is too high?

Some headphones and devices have volume warnings to tell you when you’re listening at a dangerous volume. You can typically find this in your settings and turn it on from there.

Are there headphones that can be used with hearing aids?

There are several headphone types (except for earbuds) on the market that can be worn with hearing aids. Over-ear, on-ear, and bone-conduction models all work very well with hearing aids.
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