This is no light matter to discuss, especially since anyone with ears issues surely finds the subject very sensitive. A good mate of mine, that I had grown up with, actually ended up having his ears surgically corrected after he got cauliflower ear from playing contact sports. While, in all honesty, it wasn’t necessary for my eyes, it really gave him a much needed confidence boost. It just goes to show how big of an impact it can have on a person.
This brings me to the subject of today’s article, a question I’ve seen floating around the audiophile communities… Will headphones deform your ears?
Your ears can’t be permanently reshaped by wearing headphones. There is no concrete scientific evidence to prove that headphones can deform your outer ear lobes in any way or that earbuds can expand your ear canal. Your ears stop developing at the age of ten
It is very clear that headphones push your ears closer to your head. So, of course, people question whether prolonged use, constant pressure, and friction could, in fact, change the shape of your ears. But the fact is that even wearing headphones a lot will not change the shape of your already developed ear cartilage.
When does the ear finish its development?
I will always remember being fascinated with my grandad’s humongous ears. Wondering if they’ve always been like that and if that will also happen to me when I get older. I always wanted to know from him why they got so big, and my grandfather would always say the wiser you got, the bigger they got.
It turns out, his ears stopped growing a long time ago, and the enlargement is actually due to the tissue breaking down and expanding. Let’s take a look at the entire picture.
While you were still tucked away in your mother’s womb, your ears were already starting to develop. Your external and middle ear start to mature before you are even born. This development will have a substantial effect on how your ear functions, how it receives, and processes the auditory signals that come in.
In the third trimester of pregnancy, certain things, like hair cells, have already reached maturity. However, maturing of the connection with the auditory nerve will still continue after birth. Studies have shown that unborn babies can already respond to sound as early as 25 – 27 weeks into development. Numerous changes still occur after the full-term birth period, as shown by numerous anatomic studies.
As you get older, the shape of your canal will change. Studies on the development of the auditory system have shown that when you’re an infant, the canal is shorter and straighter. In the first two years of your life, the ear canal diameter and length will gradually increase. The middle-ear cavity volume will only develop in your late teenage years.
When it comes to the basilar membrane, (the base where the sensory hair cells are positioned on), little is known other than it changes in mass and elasticity. This membrane is a lot like the diaphragm in your speakers, any sound vibrations at different frequencies are picked up and converted by the fluid within the cochlea into a neural code – the noise your brain can “hear”.
OAE’s (otoacoustic emissions), which is low-level sound released by the cochlea, helps us study the peripheral maturity by recording these sounds with a small sensitive microphone inserted into the entrance of the ear canal.
At the age of three, 85 % of your ear development would be complete, and by the age of ten, it’s already at 93%. This is usually the stage where things like prominent ears start to bother children because of bullying. While the world is changing and bullying is taken more seriously, if you feel later on in life that your ears do not match in size or shape, you can consult with a surgeon and undergo a possible Otoplasty to correct it.
Can your Ear Canal Expand?
Looking at your ear’s natural growth pattern, a number of studies have shown that there is very little change to the volume of the ear canal of a child compared to an adult. There are, however, a few cases where the ear canal can become bigger:
- Canaloplasty – Your ear canal can be surgically reconstructed by a doctor. This is used to expand or widen your auditory canal if it is too narrow.
- Aging – We’re all guilty of scratching in our ears, damaging the soft tissue. As you get older, your ear canal can become wider.
- Gender difference – Older gents have ear canals that are generally larger than their female counterparts.
- Ear infection – inflammation of the ear canal caused by infections can lead to a larger canal.
Your ear canal can, of course, expand temporarily when wearing earbuds or even earplugs, the ear canal is after all lined with soft tissue. It makes sense that they will expand a little when pressure is applied to the edges. After giving them a rest, they will go back to normal in no time.
Interestingly enough, extreme weather can also make your ears expand or contract. They will, however, return back to normal after the weather changes. The easiest explanation for this is that in warm environments, things expand, and in the cold, they compress.
Can Earbuds Make Your Ear Canal Larger?
There is no way that wearing earbuds can widen your ear canal permanently.No concrete scientific evidence has ever been found to prove that this is possible. Except for the soft tissue lining your ear canal, the inner ear is strengthened by bone. Therefore, they can’t expand by wearing earphones.
If you are a bit paranoid, try not to put unnecessary pressure onto your earbuds (like lying on them when you sleep) and opt for headphones, which go over your ears.
One thing is for sure; earbuds can hurt your ears if they are a bad fit. Most people I know who’ve wondered about the possibility that their ear canal could become larger were struggling with poorly-fitting earbuds. Remember, not one ear is the same; that’s why many manufacturers offer multiple earbud tips with their product. While one brand’s earbuds might fit your ears perfectly, others could be too tight or not even fit at all.
And, I have read the conspiracy theorist comments on forums, from those who swear their ear canals have expanded from overuse of earphones. The truth is, after a while, it eventually goes back to normal, but for some, it’s just quicker than for others. Naturally, this speculation and debate makes people nervous who are experiencing it for the first time, leading to them questioning if this could become permanent.
Lucky for us, it really can’t. No bone or cartilage with a little bit of pressure applied to it will just miraculously expand and stay like that. However, if they are really a bad fit, you might end up sitting with a throbbing headache or ear pain. Wearing headphones instead will also eliminate this issue.
Why Earbuds don’t fit Your Ear Canal Comfortably
There are many people who believe that the reason their earbuds fall out after they have used it for a long time is that it has caused their ears to expand, and now they do not fit anymore. But, there are other factors that are more likely to be the reason for this happening:
- Your earbud sleeves or tips could simply be the incorrect size – They could either be too large, or too small. Because people’s ear sizes differ, someone with larger, wider ear canals won’t be comfortable with small earbuds, which will constantly fall out.
My ears are on the smaller side, so my issue is usually that they are too big, and they constantly pop out. Luckily with the world that we live in today, there are so many options out there (one size doesn’t fit all anymore). If you also struggle with this, try a new tip type, like:
- silicon tips
- foam ear tips,
- Triple flange (the tree looking ones) tips
- bi flange tips
- single flange tips
- Your ear canal is slippery – your ears are constantly producing earwax, and this can cause your ear canal to become slippery and cause your earbuds to fall out. Sweat can also do the same thing.
When you’re running, gyming, or it’s just a hot summer’s day, the dampness can make your earbuds slip out. The very obvious solution to this is to keep your ear clean, or when you feel they’re sweaty or waxy just wipe them out with a dry cloth or q-tip. Remember to clean your earbuds too!
- Your jaw movement alters your ear canal – Your ears are located behind your temporomandibular (jaw) joint. Basically, the joint that allows all movement in your mount. It’s responsible for everything from talking to eating your food and swallowing.
It sits right below the ears on either side of your head. So while you’re chewing gum for instance the inside of your ear canal can move and stretch in size causing your earbuds to fall out. This is also what we do when our ears are “blocked” and we want to pop them.
Now that you know that scientists have never been able to prove that earbuds can drastically alter the size of your ears, you can safely continue using them, confident in your knowledge that your headphones won’t deform your ears and that there is such a multitude of reasons why your earbuds suddenly don’t fit anymore.
While they won’t deform your ears, poorly fitting headphones or earphones can create pressure sores, and for that reason choosing a good pair of headphones is essential.