Is Active Noise Cancelling Bad for Your Ears?

Are you concerned if active noise cancelling is bad for your ears? Noise-cancelling headphones have become increasingly popular in recent years. Since more and more people are looking for a way to reduce the amount of external noise, especially if they have to work in a noisy environment.

Some people may experience significant discomfort as a result of active noise cancellation. At the same time, others find the technology to be an immense help in managing their daily noise exposure. 

So, it often leads to questions like “is active noise cancelling bad for your ears?” is it safe? and is there a limit to how long you should use noise-cancelling headphones? We will explore these questions in this article.

History of Noise-cancelling Headphones

Woman in gray wearing active noise cancelling headphones

Do you know where people use noise-cancelling headphones the most? Airplanes, of course. So it’s no surprise to us that noise-cancelling headphones started in the aviation sector. Noise-cancelling headphones were created for pilots to communicate with the control tower and other pilots without having to yell over the engine’s roar. 

The first noise-cancelling headphones were created in 1980 by Dr. Amar Bose, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT. He was also the founder of the Bose Corporation. The headphones were bulky and expensive, but they were very effective in cancelling noise.

Nowadays, noise-cancelling headphones have become much smaller, more comfortable, and affordable. You can find them in many different styles, such as earbuds, on-ear, and over-ear headphones. Active noise cancellation is used in various settings such as offices, factories, construction sites,s and many more.

The Basics of Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Basics of Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Active noise cancelling is a technology that is built into headphones. It uses microphones to pick up on the external sound waves and then creates inverse waves that are 180-degrees out of phase.

The noise-cancelling circuitry keeps track of the sound’s frequency and loudness before producing an anti-sound. The latter is combined with the original sound and played through the headphones. The background noise can be reduced, allowing you to focus on the audio you want to hear.

It now works in noisy environments with low to mid-frequency noises such as trains, airplanes, traffic noise, etc. However, another type of noise-cancelling technology is used in headphones, known as passive noise cancelling.

Passive vs. Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

Passive noise-cancelling headphones are designed to physically block out sound waves by using materials that do not allow sound vibrations to pass through them, such as memory foam, silicone, and other types of soft foam. These headphones are less expensive, but they are not as effective as active noise-cancelling headphones.

On the other hand, active noise-cancelling headphones use a microphone to pick up on sound waves and then create an inverse wave 180 degrees out of phase. The noise-cancelling circuitry keeps track of the sound’s frequency and loudness before producing an anti-sound. The latter is combined with the original sound and played through the headphones. The background noise can be reduced, allowing you to focus on the audio you want to hear.

Active noise-cancelling headphones are more expensive, but they are worth the investment because they are much more effective at reducing noise.

Is Active Noise Cancelling Bad for Your Ears?

The simple answer is no; active noise cancelling is not bad for your ears. However, some people may experience significant discomfort due to using noise-cancelling headphones.

A great set of noise-cancelling headphones is a nice reprieve for most of us in an increasingly noisy environment. It may be satisfying to filter out all of daily life’s unwanted distractions. It’s enticing just to hit the noise-cancelling button and tune out the rest of the world.

But for some people, using noise-cancelling headphones can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. This is because our bodies are designed to process sound in a specific way, and when that process is disrupted, it can lead to these negative side effects.

However, it all comes down to the volume you are using your noise-cancelling headphones. If the volume is too loud, it can damage your hearing over time. But if you keep the volume at a moderate level, you should be fine.

Active noise cancelling, on the whole, has no harmful impact on your hearing. If you turn on the ANC, you could hear a minor hissing noise, but that’s it. This, however, might be annoying to some users and possibly cause dizziness. In this situation, it’s best to avoid using it too much or turn off ANC if the setting isn’t too loud. Keep in mind that this hissing noise is not harmful to your ears.

Another thing to keep in mind is that noise-cancelling headphones do not generate radiation like our cellphones.

Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Safety Concerns

Active Noise-Canceling Headphones: Safety Concerns

Despite the known advantages of active noise-cancelling, there have been various user complaints on safety-related issues, regardless of whether they are premium or budget-friendly. Let’s go over some of the safety concerns you should bear when using these headphones.

▶Ear Pressure

If you’ve ever used noise-cancelling headphones, you may have noticed a change in the pressure in your ears. This is normal and not harmful. However, some people may experience pain or discomfort due to the ear pressure. The ear pressure, in particular, is comparable to what one might experience on an airplane that is ascending. Even though noise-cancelling headphones are designed for airplane use, some people still report feeling pain in their ears.

The ear pressure we experience while flying is caused by air density variations within and outside the ears. The inner ear vibrations are less when the air density within the ears is higher. Thus you hear fewer low-frequency noises. The converse is also true, so you can hear a difference in noise when the airplane’s engines are turned off.

While the sensation of ear pressure from using noise-cancelling headphones is normal, it’s essential to be aware that some people may experience pain or discomfort as a result.


Tinnitus is a condition that causes you to hear ringing, buzzing, or other noise in your ears even when there is no external sound. It can be intermittent or constant, and it can vary in loudness. Tinnitus is often caused by exposure to loud noise, but it can also be caused by certain medications, head injuries, and other health conditions.

It’s a typical condition that may affect people of different ages and is caused by anything that interferes with or destroys the delicate inside tissues of the ears. Many individuals have complained about tinnitus as a result of wearing ANC headphones, but there is no strong evidence to prove this claim. The increased noise suppression of ANC headphones may be a credible explanation for tinnitus perception.

On the other hand, ANC headphones are advised for tinnitus patients and the prevention of tinnitus. Since the efficient ambient noise-cancelling feature eliminates the need for users to boost the volume of the headphones in loud surroundings, subsequent tinnitus attacks are reduced or prevented.

▶Ear Fatigue

Even though ANC headphones have been designed to be as comfortable as possible, some users may experience ear fatigue. Since ear cups of the headphones create a seal around the ears, which causes the ears to feel tired. It is often recommended to take a break from using the headphones every few hours to give your ears a rest.

Some ANC headphones come with different-sized ear cups so that you can find a better fit for your ears. There is also a type of ANC headphone with an open-back design, which can help reduce ear fatigue.

▶Dizziness and Nausea

Dizziness is a feeling of lightheadedness or vertigo, while nausea is an uneasiness of the stomach that often comes before vomiting. Both dizziness and nausea can be caused by many different things, including medications, diseases, and disorders. Some people have reported feeling dizzy or nauseous after using noise-cancelling headphones.

There are a few possible explanations for this. First, the change in ear pressure that occurs when you use noise-cancelling headphones can sometimes cause dizziness. Second, some people may be sensitive to the hissing sound produced by the noise-cancelling feature. This sound is usually only audible to the person wearing the headphones, but some people may be sensitive to it.

▶Interference with Assistive Devices

This is more of a concern for people who rely on assistive devices, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to hear. Some noise-cancelling headphones can interfere with these devices and cause static or other noise. If you use an assistive device, it’s essential to check with the manufacturer to see if there are any known issues with using noise-cancelling headphones.

▶Sleep Issues

A sound sleep is essential for good health, but some people find that noise-cancelling headphones can disrupt sleep. This is because the hissing sound produced by the noise-cancelling feature can be disruptive. Choosing a model that doesn’t produce this sound is essential if you’re using noise-cancelling headphones to help you sleep. You may also want to try using them for a shorter period to see if that helps.

How Can You Protect Your Ears

If you’re concerned about the effects of noise-cancelling headphones on your ears, you can do a few things to protect your ears.

✔Keep a Moderate Volume 

One of the best things you can do is keep the volume at a moderate level. This will help reduce your exposure to loud noise and prevent damage to your hearing. Adjust the volume on your headphones so that you can still hear the person next to you.

✔Let Ears Rest and Recover

Another good way to protect your ears is to take breaks from using your noise-cancelling headphones. If you’re using them for an extended period of time, take a break every few hours. This will give your ears a chance to rest and recover.

✔Protect Ears from Loud noises

If you’re going to be in a loud environment, such as a concert or a sporting event, it’s good to use earplugs. Earplugs will help reduce the amount of noise exposure and protect your hearing. There are other ways to protect your ears from loud noise, such as moving away from the noise source or using sound-cancelling headphones.

✔Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones Sparingly

If you’re concerned about the effects of noise-cancelling headphones on your ears, it’s best to use them sparingly. Use them when you need them, but don’t use them all the time. This will help reduce your exposure to loud noise and protect your ears.

✔Choose the Right Active Noise Cancelling Headphones 

There are a lot of different noise-cancelling headphones on the market, and not all of them are created equal. When you’re choosing a pair of headphones, look for a pair that has been designed to reduce noise without causing other issues. There are a few different ways to do this.

  1. First, check the noise reduction rating (NRR). This is a measure of how much noise the headphones can reduce. The higher the NRR, the better.
  2. Second, look for headphones that have been designed to be comfortable. If you’re going to be wearing them for an extended period of time, it’s important to choose a pair that won’t cause discomfort.
  3. Make sure the headphones you choose fit properly. If they’re too loose, they won’t be effective at noise reduction. And if they’re too tight, they can cause pain and discomfort.
  4. Choose headphones that have been designed to be durable. This is especially important if you’re going to be using them on a regular basis.
  5. Check for volume limiter features. Some headphones have this feature, which allows you to set a maximum volume. It can help prevent accidental damage to your hearing.
  6. Research the different types of noise-cancelling headphones before you make a purchase. It will help you find the right pair for your needs.

When using noise-cancelling headphones, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks. But if you use them sparingly and take steps to protect your hearing, you can minimize the risk of damage to your ears.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Which is better? Passive or Active Noise-cancelling?

If you need to cancel out a lot of noise, such as on an airplane, then active noise-cancelling headphones are good. But if you’re just looking to reduce the amount of background noise in your environment, passive noise-cancelling headphones may be a better option.

Q: Are there any side effects of using active noise-cancelling headphones?

As mentioned above, It is safe to use noise-cancelling headphones. But there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, make sure you’re not wearing them for too long. Second, take breaks from using them. And finally, choose the right pair of headphones.

Q: Can noise-cancelling headphones cause hearing loss?

Noise-cancelling headphones will not cause hearing loss. But if you use them for an extended period of time, they can cause ear fatigue. This is why it’s important to take breaks from using them.

Q: Do noise-cancelling headphones work for all noise?

Noise-cancelling headphones are most effective at cancelling out low-frequency noises. But they can also reduce some high-frequency noises.

Q: Do noise-cancelling headphones work for all types of hearing loss?

Noise-cancelling headphones can be beneficial for people with all types of hearing loss. But they may be especially helpful for people with sensorineural hearing loss. Since this type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear, noise-cancelling headphones can help reduce background noise reaching the inner ear.

Q : Will noise-cancelling headphones work if I have tinnitus?

There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments that can help. Active noise-cancelling headphones can be one of these treatments. Reducing the amount of background noise can help make tinnitus less noticeable.

Q: I have a hearing aid. Will noise-cancelling headphones work with it?

Most hearing aids can be used with noise-cancelling headphones, which wrap completely around the ear and stay on your head all around the ear. However, not all hearing aids will work with noise-cancelling earbuds. Since hearing aids are custom fit to your ear, you’ll need to consult with your audiologist to see if noise-cancelling earbuds are possible.

Q: Are active noise-cancelling good for health?

If you are working in a noisy environment, dealing with persistent noises is a huge challenge. In this case, noise-cancelling can help in protecting your ears. Long-term exposure to low-frequency sounds has also been shown to be harmful. We’re taught to believe that loud sounds cause substantial damage, yet long-term low-frequency noises may also be dangerous.

Loud sounds mostly harm your hearing by disrupting your sleep, increasing stressors, and causing excruciating headaches.

Q: Is it possible that noise-cancelling headphones can cause ear infections?

There is no evidence to support the claim that noise-cancelling headphones can cause ear infections. However, it is important to keep your ears clean and dry to prevent any infection. Also, make sure to clean your headphones regularly.

Q :Can I use active noise cancelling while sleeping?

Yes, you can use noise-cancelling headphones while sleeping. There are even some specifically designed for this purpose. However, it is important to ensure that the headphones are comfortable and don’t cause any pain. You may also consider using earplugs and headphones to ensure that you’re not interrupted by any outside noise.

Final Thoughts

Yes, we all enjoy music, games, and some quiet time. But not at the price of our ears. Our ears are delicate, and we have only had one pair throughout our lives. It is only our responsibility to treat them properly. Hopefully, this thorough guide hasn’t only taught you how to get the most from your noise-cancelling headphones. But also to use them in the least harmful way to your ears.

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