Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Nausea & Headache?

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Nausea & Headache? |

You might have bought an expensive pair of noise-canceling headphones but suddenly started experiencing nausea and headache. These symptoms can derive from many causes, but could your headphones be the reason for your discomfort?

Can noise-canceling headphones cause nausea & headache?

Noise-canceling headphones have been found to cause disturbing symptoms like nausea, headaches, dizziness, motion sickness, etc. Although they may not cause the symptoms in everyone, the percentage of its incidence is not negligible either. So, be sure of the pros and cons of these headphones first.

With the advent of newer technologies, even headphones are getting better. The Apple AirPods started their line of noise-canceling headphones and have created a craze ever since. But these headphones may not be doing you a health benefit. Instead, they may be harmful to you. So, to get the answers to all your concerns, please read the entire article till the end.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Tinnitus?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones can cause tinnitus. Noise-canceling headphones produce a sound to cancel out ambient noise. But that can also reduce the clarity of the sound produced by the earphone, making you increase the volume. This causes physical damage to your ears, leading to tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a medical term that describes strange hissing or ringing noises in your ears. You can experience this in one or both ears due to physiological and pathological causes.

The ringing is heard as if someone produced a loud beep, or some hissing sounds as if something were stuck in your ears. Tinnitus is a symptom of underlying pathology. Commonly, the causes are Hypertension, infections in the ear like AOM, COM, Meniere’s disease, Sensory Neural Hearing Loss (SNHL), Postural Hypotension, Diabetes, etc.

Basically, noise-canceling headphones eliminate all kinds of ambient sounds or other noises that can interfere with the sound system of your headphones. Even if you use active noise-canceling headphones or passive ones, they produce isolated sound frequencies.

So, the other parts of your body may not feel the vibrations enough, and you may feel the urge to turn up the volume too high. If you keep doing this constantly, you will develop temporary hearing loss at one point. Even if you use noise-canceling headphones, the hearing loss you will develop can present with tinnitus.

Research shows how teens and adolescents have been addicted to turning up their headphones to high volumes. It had led to hearing loss which presented with symptoms like tinnitus.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Vertigo?

Noise-canceling headphones can cause vertigo. It happens to many users who try to remain more focused on the sounds of the headphone. So, when the concentration breaks, the inner ear balance disrupts and makes you feel unbalanced or nauseating, also known as vertigo.

Generally, vertigo refers to the feeling that the world is spinning around you or that you are spinning while the world is static. You may have felt like this many times after a bus journey or dancing for a while. It is normal.

The ear is a significant organ for maintaining balance and the cerebellum. It makes sure you stand straight and do not fall off your position.

But the kind of vertigo that relates to your ears is the Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). The most acceptable etiology of this condition is that when Canaliths or small calcium particles deposit in your inner ear, they distort balance and cause vertigo.

Typically, when using those wireless buds to isolate yourself from otherworldly sounds and noises, your entire inner ear system is trying to create this balance. You become focused on the sound your headphones produce; Say, when using them while walking on the road or just sitting down somewhere.

When using them for long, the nerves and hair follicles get injured. Then, when you take these off, the maculae and cristae receptors sense this sudden change in environment, and there is distortion in balance. A study has confirmed the correlation between noise-canceling headphones and BPPV.

Also, suppose you regularly use active noise-canceling headphones with volumes high up. In that case, you may ultimately injure your inner ear, resulting in diseases causing vertigo.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Ear Infection?

Headphones can cause ear infections. Prolonged use causes moisture to build, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Sharing headphones can also transmit bacterial and fungal infections leading to ear infections.

It is the case with any earbuds, whether wired or wireless, without noise-canceling or noise-canceling abilities. Mainly, there are some crucial factors behind this.

When using earphones for prolonged periods, you create a very humid and warm environment inside your ear canal. The humidity mostly comes from sweat. And this sweat contains many minerals too.

All these together create a very convenient environment for microbial growth. You can end up with Impacted ear wax, Furunculosis, Otomycosis, or even Otitis Media.

Check out this comparative study from the Manipal Academy. You will never share your earbuds again. However, another study has shown that middle ear infections have more incidences, external ears are less commonly involved, and the percentage of hearing loss is the greatest with these noise-canceling headphones.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Headaches?

After having a bad experience with noise-canceling headphones, the first symptom you will notice is a nasty headache. It can present as a tension-type headache. Some people may even develop migraines which can be bad for your health overall.

To understand this part better, you need to analyze first how noise-canceling headphones work. There are two different kinds of mechanisms in the case of noise-canceling headphones. There are ANCs and PNCs.

In short, the Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones work by creating such frequencies of sound that can combat the high frequency of ambient noises.

On the other hand, the Passive Noise Cancelling (PNC) ones do not create any such waves. Instead, they eliminate the surrounding noises like car horns, construction noises, birds screeching, voices, screaming, loud thuds, etc.

Whatever may be the mechanism, this alters your normal auditory function. It interferes with how sound waves should typically travel through your ears and then reach the brain and transmit signals that you perceive as sounds.

These alterations in normal auditory behavior are not convenient for your body. You start to develop common symptoms like headache, nausea, dizziness, etc. Some may even complain of jaw pain, pressure in the ear, etc.

When you make using these headphones a regular habit, your body fails to adapt at one point and shows these typical bad symptoms. But people who can adapt to these changes well do not experience such conditions.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Damage Hearing?

When you use noise-canceling headphones on high volumes for prolonged periods, you may be on the verge of deafness or hearing loss. High volume sounds vibrate the eardrum vigorously and overwork the hair cells and nerves. It is very harmful to the ears.

As appealing as this technology may sound, noise-canceling headphones are not doing you a great benefit. The worst experiences occur with active noise-canceling headphones. However, the passive ones do not produce intense symptoms and are pretty comfortable to use.

Even without the loud volumes, the active noise-canceling headphones create an isolated sound frequency. It is not healthy for your auditory pathways.

In fact, studies show exposing your ears to loud volume constantly can damage the hair follicles, nerves, functional units of hearing (The Organ of Corti), etc., involved in the entire process of transmitting the sound to your brain. After being constantly exposed to loud frequencies, at one point, your hearing receptors fail to recognize the lower frequencies. It results in hearing loss.

The ambient sounds can help your ears detect a specific frequency better. Even if it is a loud sound, the ambient sounds balance it to some extent so that it does not harm your hearing receptors. But when using noise-canceling headphones, you lose this benefit.

Eventually, at a particular time, the hearing power gets damaged. We hear sounds in the range of 20 – 20,000 Hz. It is the Audibility Range. Your ears fail to recognize the lowest and highest possible frequencies when damaged. But if you are using your headphones in the right way, you may be able to prevent this damage.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Nausea?

Noise-canceling headphones can cause sickness in a fraction of people. Especially if it doesn’t suit you well or you don’t adapt to it well, you may start to feel sick. You end up with bad symptoms like nausea, dizziness, etc. Nausea is one of the initial symptoms.

Nausea and headaches are the typical responses of our body to any underlying health condition. Mainly, nausea and vomiting may occur when you are experiencing the pain of any kind. Even headaches may trigger nausea.

Our body needs to be in perfect balance always. Any disruption in the average balance causes several symptoms to develop. People prone to developing motion sickness usually don’t suit well to noise-canceling headphones. Typically, problems arise with active noise-canceling devices.

Also, when using noise-canceling headphones, if there are some surrounding motions that your eyes can detect but your ears fail to get a sound of, you may feel sick and develop dizziness, nausea, etc. It is a headphone-related sickness.

There have been reports of people complaining of nausea after using Apple AirPods. The noise-canceling system does not suit everyone, to be honest. Some even suggest letting the earphones take up some ambient sounds to reduce this headphone-related sickness.

Moreover, there is a difference in air pressure when you put on these earphones. The air pressure can cause your eardrum to suck in. It can be very uncomfortable for the users. Ultimately, they show symptoms like nausea, headaches, etc.

Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is a common side effect of noise-canceling headphones. You can develop motion sickness if the noise-canceling headphones create an imbalance of natural air pressure in your ear canals. This leads to motion sickness.

You can feel pressure in your ears after having a bad experience with noise-canceling headphones. Even if you buy the Apple AirPods or Bose, you can feel it. The feeling is comparable to the same pressure you feel while ascending on an airplane.

What happens here is that there is an imbalance of air pressure between your external environment and the auditory tube. The job of the acoustic tube is to maintain an equilibrium of air pressure between the outer atmosphere and the middle ear. If there is negative pressure inside, the tube fails to maintain this equilibrium.

As a result, there is barotrauma due to an imbalance of pressure. Your eardrum sucks in and creates a feeling of blockage or pressure in your ears. Then, you start to feel nauseous. In general, most noise-canceling headphones can cause this imbalance of pressure.

Furthermore, it disrupts the entire balancing mechanism inside your ear. It overstimulates the balance maintaining receptors in your semicircular canals. Ultimately, you develop motion sickness. You become extremely sensitive to minimal changes in movements, sounds, and noises.

You can take some regular antiemetic drugs to prevent or treat this condition. Many Over The Counter (OTC) drugs like Cyclizine, Meclizine, Cetirizine, Levocetirizine, etc. However, this condition may not occur in those well adapted to noise-canceling headphones.

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Help With Anxiety?

Yes, noise-canceling headphones can help people with anxiety. People suffering from anxiety disorders are less anxious when focused on a specific rhythm or tune of music. Noise-canceling headphones cancel out the disorderly noises of the external world. This helps with reducing anxiety.

According to some studies, noise-canceling headphones in patients undergoing procedures showed that the patients felt less pain and were less anxious. In a study conducted on a patient undergoing Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL), a procedure to destroy renal stones, noise-canceling headphones were beneficial for pain and anxiety.

Also, another research showed that noise-canceling headphones helped to tone down pain or anxiety in patients undergoing Prostatic Biopsy through the rectal route.

So, in a sense, yeah, noise-canceling headphones can help you with your anxiety issues. Although these headphones may not be able to cure your anxiety problems, they may seem to give you a sense of temporary relief.

How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Block Out Sound?

The noise-canceling headphones work on the simple principle of blocking ambient sounds or noises. These headphones either produce their isolated sounds or absorb the ambient noises. They work to let you have the best quality sound, which is not mixed with any other unwanted frequencies.

These noise-canceling headphones work in two unique ways. Active noise-canceling headphones (ACN) and passive noise-canceling headphones (PCN).

The active noise canceling ones can block all kinds of high-frequency sound. Also, they can delete the low-frequency waves. These active noise-canceling devices produce sounds that resemble ambient noise.

But these inherent sound waves are out of phase with the ambient ones, typically at 180 degrees. As a result, the crests of one wave match the troughs of the other, and vice versa. In this way, the waves cancel each other due to destructive interference, and the person only listens to the desired sound.

Thus, noises of 20 decibels are deducted, and the active noise cancellation blocks 70% of the ambient sounds.

On the other hand, passive noise-canceling headphones do not use such a mechanism. Usually, they come with sound-absorbing materials like foam, heavy insulators, etc. So, this automatically filters the ambient noises. These can block noises by 15 to 20 decibels.


Deciding to pay that extra sum of money for a new pair of noise-canceling headphones can be a tough call to make. Understand what suits you and what doesn’t. Yes, you want to enjoy music in the best form, that’s understandable. But do not opt for choices that can risk your health.

So, if you wondered if noise-canceling headphones cause nausea & vomiting, I hope you got your answers now. Most importantly, listen to music on optimum volume levels, and do not share your buds. Thank you for reading the entire article with patience. Enjoy your headphones, but in a healthy way.

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