Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Tinnitus

by Matthew David | Updated: 09/10/2023


Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Tinnitus

Are you a music enthusiast or someone who frequently uses headphones for work or personal use? Then you are likely familiar with noise-canceling headphones and may have wondered, “Can noise cancelling headphones cause tinnitus?”

Understanding Noise-Canceling Technology

Noise-canceling headphones are a massive hit in the marketplace. They use cutting-edge technology that enables users to immerse themselves deeply in their audio experience. These high-tech devices employ active and passive techniques to cancel out ambient noise.

The active noise cancelation operates through a microphone that picks up outside noises. The headphone then generates a contrary sound wave to negate the incoming wave. On the other hand, passive noise-canceling provides isolation by physically blocking out the noise.

Let’s delve into how these intriguing devices relate to tinnitus.

Understanding Tinnitus

Tinnitus, often described as a persistent ringing in the ears, can be quite disruptive. It can be a result of several factors, including exposure to prolonged loud noises, age-related hearing loss, earwax blockage, and ear bone changes.

Many people describe tinnitus as a buzzing, clicking, hissing, or roaring noise that only they can hear. While it’s often seen as a symptom rather than a disease itself, it can point to underlying health conditions like heart disease or hearing loss.

Connection between Headphones and Tinnitus

There’s no evading the reality that prolonged exposure to loud volumes can potentially lead to tinnitus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1 billion teenagers and young adults worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds.

Examining Claims about Noise-Cancelling Headphones and Tinnitus

Various reports have questioned whether noise-canceling headphones specifically contribute to tinnitus. Some individuals believe they’ve developed tinnitus after prolonged usage of these devices. However, existing medical and scientific evidence does not typically support these claims.

Safety Measures while Using Noise Cancelling Headphones

Experts recommend safe usage of headphones, including taking regular breaks and keeping the volume at safe levels. Some devices also come with built-in volume limit features to prevent potential hearing damage.

Alternative Solutions for Individuals at Risk

If you’re at risk or currently experiencing tinnitus symptoms, consider other types of headphones. Bone conduction headphones, for instance, have proven safer; they transmit sound directly into the inner ear through the skull, bypassing the ear canal and eardrum altogether.

Remember, the goal is to reduce exposure to potentially harmful sounds while still enjoying your audio experience. This approach can significantly decrease your risk of developing tinnitus.

Understanding the Prevalence and Impact of Tinnitus

We’ve established what tinnitus is, how it manifests, its causes, and linked it to prolonged high-volume audio exposure. Now let’s comprehend the prevalence of this hearing problem. About 15-20% of people will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives. This seemingly small percentage represents millions globally, making tinnitus a widespread issue. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that approximately 10% of adults in the U.S. have experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.

For some, tinnitus is a mild inconvenience. For others, it’s a debilitating condition causing work-related issues, disruptions during quiet periods or sleep, stress, anxiety, even depression. Tinnitus can severely compromise quality of life, making it an affliction we cannot ignore.

Pathophysiology of Tinnitus

Understanding how noise-canceling headphones might cause tinnitus requires a grasp of the condition’s pathophysiology. Tinnitus is primarily linked to damage to hair cells in the cochlea (inner ear). Very loud sounds can overload these hair cells leading to cell death.

As noise-canceling technology attenuates external noise but does not change the volume at which you listen to your audio content significantly, it’s hard to make a substantial connection between their use and tinnitus. It’s more about volume than headphone type.

In-Depth Look at Noise-Canceling Headphones

Of course, not all noise-canceling headphones are built equally. Some boast superior active noise-canceling capabilities that optimally block out ambient noise. With these high-end models, users often don’t need to crank up their audio volume to compete with external noises, reducing the risk of tinnitus.

On the flip side, lower-quality models may not provide effective noise cancellation compelling users to increase their volume. In such cases, there could be an indirect link between using these headphones and developing tinnitus.

Step-By-Step Guide to Safe Listening

Here’s how you can enjoy your noise-canceling headphones without risking tinnitus:

  1. Opt for Over-Ear Models: These provide better passive noise isolation reducing the need for high volumes.
  2. Use Active Noise Cancellation Adequately: Use it in noisier environments, not when it’s relatively quiet.
  3. Keep Volume Moderate: Try to keep your volume below 60% of maximum.
  4. Take Breaks: Every hour, take a break for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Don’t Sleep with Headphones On: If you use them to block out noise while sleeping, consider alternatives like earplugs or white noise machines.

Examining Other Potential Risks

While the focus is on tinnitus, we should underscore that prolonged high-volume listening can result in other hearing-related problems. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is distressingly common and can co-occur with tinnitus. Furthermore, headphone use has been associated with increased ear infections because moisture can accumulate in occluded ears, providing a breeding ground for bacteria.

So, although we might emphasize, “can noise canceling headphones cause tinnitus?” it’s critical to also ask, “how can I ensure my auditory health while enjoying audio content?”

Informed Choices for Audio Consumers

Understanding the potential risks involved in excessive headphone use puts us in a better position to make informed decisions as consumers and audio enthusiasts. By selecting high-quality noise-canceling headphones and using them responsibly, we can safeguard our auditory health while continuing to indulge our love for music, podcasts, audiobooks, and more.


So, can noise cancelling headphones cause tinnitus? Based on current evidence, there seems to be no direct link. However, like all headphone use, you must exercise caution when using them. It is vital to maintain a moderate volume and regular breaks to protect your hearing health.