Are Noise-Cancelling Headphones Safe?

Bose noise-cancelling headphones

From the roar of the subway, to the construction crew working down the street from your house, to your neighbor’s loud music reverberating through the thin walls of your apartment, noise is an irritating but inevitable part of our lives.

Luckily, great strides have been made when it comes to the technology of noise-cancelling headphones; these headphones have become cheaper, more widely available and more efficient. Now, more than ever, you can listen to music, watch videos and movies, and listen to podcasts without being distracted by outside noise.

This begs the question: Are noise-cancelling headphones safe to use regularly? Some users suggest that they can be harmful to your hearing. But the truth is, when used correctly, noise-cancelling headphones are perfectly safe to use, and may actually be better for your hearing than traditional headphones or earbuds. 

How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work?

There are two types of noise cancellation that these headphones employ: passive and active.

Headphones with passive noise cancellation (PNC) use physical material, such as foam or another sound-absorbing material, to muffle the strength of the soundwaves as they come into your ears.

Active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones are a little different; they have microphones in them that detect soundwaves and then emit equal and opposite waves to actively cancel out the noise in your environment.

Technically, all headphones have some sort of PNC, as they physically cover your ears. But nowadays, most noise-cancelling headphones also use an active technique, which is more effective. This has caused some people to wonder about their safety, citing concerns that the consistent soundwaves emitted from ANC headphones can damage your hearing. Truthfully, however, these waves are inaudible and don’t harm the ears.

The only way noise-cancelling headphones can damage your hearing is if you listen to them for too long, at too high of a volume, as is true for any other type of headphones. Most experts recommend wearing headphones for no longer than an hour without taking a break, and listening at a level that’s no higher than 70 decibels.

Some people have reported hearing a slight hissing sound coming from ANC headphones, or experiencing a feeling of pressure that can cause headaches or earaches while wearing these headphones. These symptoms are likely caused by the vibrations from the earphones tricking the brain into believing there’s a change in air pressure, which can lead to discomfort.

Many wearers of noise-cancelling headphones won’t experience these effects at all. Some will get over them quickly, while a small number of users will be inevitably bothered by noise-cancelling headphones. This will all depend on how your ears and brain respond. Although these physical effects aren’t dangerous, they can be uncomfortable, so while ANC headphones are perfectly safe to use, they may not be the best choice for everyone.

A final note on safety is that unlike cell phones, headphones don’t emit low levels of radiation, so there’s no long-term risk of cancer or other defects associated with wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

The Importance of Responsible Use

As mentioned above, as long as you use noise-cancelling headphones responsibly, they’re 100 percent safe. In fact, they can even be better for your hearing than conventional listening devices.

With many other types of headphones, people will turn up the volume because they struggle to hear their music over the sounds of their surroundings. On the other hand, since noise-cancelling headphones block out peripheral noise, you’ll be far less likely to crank up the volume to unsafe levels.

Keep in mind that while noise-cancelling headphones are incredibly convenient, you should always use them appropriately and avoid shutting out sounds you may need to hear. If you’re driving, walking through busy city streets, or doing anything else where you might need to hear sirens or other sounds for your own safety, think about turning the noise-cancelling feature off.

The Bottom Line

Noise-cancelling headphones are a terrific option for improving your music-listening experience. Not only do they make listening to your favorite tunes more enjoyable, but they’re also safer for your hearing, long-term, than other options. So, with peace of mind, enjoy the music!

Related Read

Are Noise-Cancelling Headphones Worth it? Everything You Need to Know!

image: Wikimedia Commons

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