Noise-Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing-Is It True?


In the noisy environments of today, hearing loss caused by noise poses a serious threat. Our sensitive ears are subjected to dangerously high decibel levels in a variety of settings, including crowded city streets, sporting events, concerts, and festivals. When you listen to loud music through headphones, your risk of hearing loss increases, but what can you do when the background noise is so loud that you have to keep turning up the volume?

You might have thought about investing in noise-canceling headphones to put an end to the constant conflict between your headphones and outside noise. They assist in protecting your hearing by allowing you to lower the volume of your music or podcast while still being able to block out background noise. However, they aren’t always the right answer — read on to learn wh

The Difference Between Harmful Noise & Unwanted Sound

The “Noise” that noise-canceling headphones remove is mostly unwanted sound.

An example of a quiet noise that prevents you from concentrating on a task is a loud conversation between coworkers in an open office setting. The noise many headphones advertise to cancel, is mostly static and periodic, like the droning of an airplane engine or the hum of an air-condition.

However, there is also damaging noise. Even if they are pleasant sounds (like music), loud and harmful noises can harm our hearing. What causes a damaging sound is your exposure to it over time and at what decibel levels. When exposure exceeds 85dB for 8 hours a day, you are at risk of acquiring NIHL, or noise-induced hearing loss. The amount of time that you can be exposed to louder sounds without harm is much less. The safety threshold is only 15 minutes at 100 dB or the volume of a rock concert.

Unwanted sound does not always equate to sound that could cause harm. The problem is that people don’t know if they are exposed to unwanted or damaging sounds. As a result, many users of noise-canceling headphones use them to protect their hearing, but this is frequently untrue protection!

Noise-Cancelling Headphone

The Basics of Noise-Cancelling Headphones

The earcups of headphones with noise cancellation have tiny built-in microphones. Before you hear anything, the microphones pick up the sound, which is then processed by the noise-canceling circuitry (again, in the earcup).

The noise-canceling circuitry records the sound’s frequency and amplitude before producing an anti-sound. The latter is fed to the headphone speakers after being combined with the original sound. You can hear the audio you want because the noise is muted.

Now, this works in noisy environments with low to mid-frequency sounds, such as traffic noise, airplane and train noise, and more. However, there is a different kind of noise cancellation that doesn’t involve active noise control: passive noise cancellation.

Because the padding of over-ear or on-ear headphones forms a tight seal around your ear and isolates outside noise, passive noise cancellation primarily occurs. This is also possible when using earbuds or in-ear headphones that fit inside your ear canal and stop sound from entering. PNC headphones typically have a tight fit and may feel heavy, but they work well to block out sound, especially high-frequency sounds like a baby crying or a dog howling as well as explosive transient sounds like gunshots and firecrackers.

Whether it be passively, actively, or both, different types of headphones have different ways of isolating noise. You are responsible for selecting the noise-canceling headphones that are best for you.

Does Noise-Cancelling Damage Your Hearing?

Overall, noise cancellation in headphones has no detrimental effects on your hearing. When the ANC is activated, you might hear a very faint hissing sound, but that’s about it. It may, however, irritate some people and even make them feel queasy. If it’s not too noisy, it’s preferable to avoid using it too frequently or to keep ANC off. Remember that this hissing noise won’t harm your ears.

Another important thing to note is that noise-canceling headphones do not emit radiation as our mobile phones do.

If you frequently participate in conference calls or online meetings, you can increase the noise cancellation from your headphones. You can eliminate noise from the conference call on both ends by using noise-canceling apps like Krisp.


Can Noise-Cancelling Headphones Cause Tinnitus?

As audiologists, we are aware that tinnitus is not caused by Bluetooth or the noise-canceling capabilities of headphones or earbuds. Unfortunately, we are also aware that earbuds and headphones are frequently misused.

People have a tendency to listen to loud music for extended periods of time, especially young people. According to Herrera et al. (2016), 34% of young people who use portable music devices do so for extended periods of time, and more than 37% of them play their music loudly. Tinnitus can be brought on by this, and it frequently does, leading to hearing loss. According to Sieber (2021), people with hearing loss are twice as likely to experience tinnitus as people with normal hearing.

Unexpectedly, noise-canceling headphones might, in a roundabout way, aid in the treatment of tinnitus. By reducing background noise, a user can listen through headphones or earbuds at a lower volume, which lowers the risk of developing or worsening hearing loss and guards against tinnitus.

For over-the-ear headphones, a safe listening level is no more than 70%, and for earbuds, no more than 60%. Additionally, most phones have settings and mobile apps that restrict the maximum volume.

To summarize, using headphones and earbuds improperly can definitely increase your risk of noise-induced hearing loss, which in turn can increase your risk of developing tinnitus.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing–Is It True?

“Does hearing protection with noise cancellation actually exist?”

I’d be a millionaire if I had a dollar for each time a patient told me they wear noise-canceling earplugs to protect their hearing. . . truthfully, I’d have more like $30. If you happen to be one of those 300ish people I’ve talked to or one of the many I haven’t talked to yet, please, please understand that most “noise canceling” hearing protectors do not cancel noise. I’ll say it again for clarity: MOST NOISE CANCELLING HEARING PROTECTORS DO NOT CANCEL NOISE.!

It’s difficult to cancel noise—really difficult. There are only a few headsets that actually cancel noise, and NEITHER of them is regarded as a hearing protector. Try to find a Noise Reduction Rating* (NRR) on the Bose Quiet Comforts, but you can’t because they aren’t hearing protectors. They are made to provide you with a high-fidelity listening experience while reducing lower-frequency sounds, but they won’t shield your ears from extremely loud noises. In fact, if used in a noisy environment where high frequencies are dominant, they may actually increase the risk of hearing loss.

One business, Aegisound, produces actual noise-canceling hearing protection (custom earplugs + earmuffs), but these protectors are typically used in extremely noisy environments, like the flight decks of naval aircraft carriers. Due to their specialized nature, these hearing protection devices are overkill for most people’s everyday hearing protection needs and are also prohibitively expensive.

Most of the ear muffs that claim to use active noise reduction technology only use “peak clipping” technology. As a result, when the level of noise reaches a certain threshold, the speakers turn off after being measured by microphones on the ear muffs. You are then left with a straightforward pair of stupid ear muffs. By “dumb,” These products don’t use any intelligent technology, by the way. These devices work similarly to a $5 set of cheap ear muffs in that they protect your hearing by utilizing the passive hearing protection capabilities of the ear muff.

Are Noise-Cancelling Headphones Good for Health?

If you work somewhere noisy, it can be very difficult to deal with the constant noise. Using noise-canceling headphones in this situation will actually help safeguard your hearing. Long-term exposure to low-frequency noises can be harmful as well. Although it’s common knowledge that loud noises cause the most harm, long-term low-frequency noises can also have an adverse effect.

The main ways that loud noises harm your hearing are by making it difficult for you to sleep, increasing your stress levels, and giving you excruciating headaches.

Just as dangerous as loud noises, if not more so, are low-level, continuous noises. Stress hormone levels are higher in those who work and live in a noisy environment than they are in those who do not.

High blood pressure and cholesterol are linked to an increased level of the stress hormone cortisol, which raises the risk of heart disease. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can also be brought on by low-level sounds.

Noise Increases the Level of Stress Hormones…

According to a study that appeared in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, kids who live in low-noise neighborhoods have higher cortisol levels than kids who live in quiet neighborhoods.

Now, if you wear noise-canceling headphones, you reduce the likelihood that your stress hormone levels will rise. You safeguard your hearing and may lower your chance of developing noise-induced hearing loss.

The best part is that noise-canceling headphones let you enjoy your music without having to turn up the volume because they block out background noise. Another significant risk to your hearing is loud music listening.

Selecting headphones with good padding and ANC, which will offer you both passive and active noise cancellation, may help you get the best results from noise cancellation.

Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing While Mowing

The answer is no, it’s not safe to use noise-canceling headphones while mowing. High noise levels are already being placed on your ears. The already painful mower sounds are made even worse by wearing headphones. Earmuffs that completely muffle the sound of loud machinery are preferable to those that only dampen it.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Should I Get Passive Or Active Noise-canceling Headphones?

PNC headphones are the way to go if you want to protect your ears from loud or high-frequency noises. ANC headphones aren’t very good at adjusting to and shielding you from fleeting sounds because it takes them some time to recognize and match external sounds. However, protective earmuffs would probably be a better option if all you’re after is ear protection.

ANC headphones would be helpful if you wanted to block out the constant humming of public transportation, busy streets, and crowded offices. By using ANC headphones, which allow you to listen to music at lower volumes, you can significantly lower your risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

It should be noted that using noise-canceling headphones while working out outside is not a wise decision. Follow these guidelines to stay safe when running or biking while wearing headphones in environments where you need to be aware of your surroundings, such as when biking on a busy street.

What Can You Do to Preserve Hearing?

Always keep the volume on your headphones at a reasonable level. That is one of the main problems that present a health risk.

Here’s how to determine whether the volume on your headphones is moderate. The maximum amount of noise that won’t damage your hearing is up to 85 decibels, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which measures noise intensity in decibels. Anything louder than that will begin to affect your hearing.

Around 60 decibels are generated by casual conversations in a quiet environment like an office. Try to keep the volume as low as possible so that it still sounds like a conversation. Also, watch out for conversations getting too intense. There may be 95 to 100 decibels of noise from all speaking parties.

You can also listen to your body to determine if the volume is too loud for you. Remove your headphones and pay attention to what is happening. The volume is too loud for you if you experience any ringing or slight hissing in your ears, or if all other sounds seem dull and muted.


With noise-canceling headphones, there is no risk to your health. There is no need to be concerned about radiation because there is none, and the noise-canceling technology is safe for the ears.

Noise-canceling headphones do a lot to protect your hearing from the loud environment around you. They enhance your listening experience by taking out the background noise.

The only thing you need to pay attention to is the headphones’ volume. Your risk of hearing loss increases with increasing volume.

You can now go and relax in silence while wearing your noise-canceling headphones. Also, keep the volume at no more than what is necessary for a normal conversation to be heard, which is 60 decibels. You’ll be glad you did that one!


Do Noise-canceling Headphones Completely Silence All Sound?

Unfortunately, they’re not great at blocking sounds that are high-pitched and fluctuating. A common example of this is conversation. Even though noise-canceling headphones significantly reduce noise, you shouldn’t anticipate them to provide complete silence.

Are AirPods Effective Hearing Aids?

Ear plugs and ear protection. As we established, AirPods are not the best solution to preventing hearing damage. Compared to specially made earplugs and ear defenders, they do reduce sound by about 23 dB, but they just don’t provide the same level of safety.

Do Noise-canceling Headphones Make Sense to Purchase?

Should you invest in noise-canceling headphones? Yes. If you wish to protect your hearing, reduce environmental distractions, and enjoy a better audio experience, then this technology will surprise you with its impactful results.

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