Noise Cancelling Headphones and Tinnitus
There’s no doubt that noise-cancelling headphones can be a great addition to living and working in a busy environment. You might work in an open-plan office or maybe you wear them on your commute into work or when you’re travelling. We’re big fans of noise cancelling headphones because they encourage wearers to reduce the volume of the audio they’re listening to meaning they’re able to hear better without cranking up the volume and risking permanent hearing loss.
But what about for people suffering from a persistent ringing or sound in the ear?
Are noise-cancelling headphones and tinnitus connected?
What is Tinnitus?
The NHS defines tinnitus as ‘hearing noises that are not caused by an outside source’. Around 30% of people in the UK will experience tinnitus in their lifetime but it’s often temporary. For some, however, tinnitus is a permanent or semi-permanent problem and can be caused by damage to the small hairs inside the ear. It can be caused by underlying medical issues or exposure to loud noises: DJs, musicians or people working around heavy machinery, for example.
Worryingly, it can also be caused using headphones and listening to audio at high volumes. And who isn’t guilty of doing that from time-to-time?
Can Headphones Cause Tinnitus?
If you listen to audio at high volumes, then headphones can cause tinnitus as loud noises can damage the ear.
It’s recommended that you should listen to volumes of 60% or less to reduce the risk of developing hearing loss.
The noise-cancelling technology doesn’t cause tinnitus but as it sends out soundwaves to cancelling incoming ambient noise, it could be that you’re more aware of these phantom sounds when there’s better sound isolation.
This is one theory on Reddit and it seems to make sense to us: we’re not used to extreme quiet so if we put on noise-cancelling headphones, we may start hearing those sounds (or experiencing tinnitus) that are pre-existing or exacerbated by the quietness.
Noise-cancelling headphones can, however, cause feelings similar to motion sickness, A few people have reported feeling unwell after wearing them but this is because some people are more sensitive to these things than others.
Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Help with Tinnitus?
Loud noises can exacerbate tinnitus so some users wear noise-cancelling headphones when they know they’ll suffer from phantom sounds later in the day. For some people, this may be on a flight when the persistent engine noise can be an issue. Reducing the amount of ambient noise reaching the ear means that the tinnitus won’t be as bad hours afterwards. Noise cancelling headphones can, therefore, be seen as being a helpful preventative measure. This may or may not work for you.
It may help if you’re listening to the audio, but we’d be careful about banking on noise-cancelling headphones to reduce tinnitus. Headphones are unlikely to make tinnitus worse but you may find the quiet distracting. Tinnitus sufferers often say they find the condition easier to manage if they have background noise or if they’re able to listen to some form of audio. The phantom sounds can be difficult to ignore if there’s less ambient noise filtering through.
Can You Wear Headphones with Tinnitus?
You can still wear headphones if you suffer from tinnitus and there seems to be a lot of advice that suggests wearing bone-conducting headphones. You can find a list of suggested brands on the British Tinnitus Association website.
We’d always encourage people to consult medical advice if they’re concerned.
There’s helpful advice on a lot of tinnitus forums where people discuss how they manage it whilst continuing to listen to the music and audio they love.
Noise-cancelling headphones may help reduce the impact of tinnitus for sufferers by turning down the loud noises that contribute to later episodes. They can also help prevent the onset of hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus by reducing the need for wearers to turn up the volume.
If you’d like more advice about tinnitus, visit Tinnitus.org.uk
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