Man suffering from a splitting headache after wearing his noise-cancelling headphones

Can Noise-Cancelling Headphones Make You Sick?

Noise-cancelling headphones seem like a dream come true for those that travel frequently or work in noisy environments. But can they make you sick? That’s what many people wonder about.

Bose, the company that pioneered active noise cancellation technology, seems to be doing well despite the claims that noise-cancelling headphones can make you sick. Is there any merit to these claims though? Much of it really depends on the model and brand, and the individual person.

Noise-cancelling headphones are a fantastic invention, one that can cancel out different levels of decibels that threaten your peace and quiet. But the controversies swirl around them with some users complaining about feelings of motion sickness after using them.

So, do noise-cancelling headphones make you sick? The short answer is yes, if you use them in the wrong way the can cause harm and even make you sick. We’ll delve into that and much more so keep reading!

Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Make Some People Sick?

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. A few reports raise questions about whether or not noise-cancelling headphones make users feel sick.

As designed, they’re supposed to help protect your inner ear workings from damages caused by real noise (like that from heavy machinery or airplane engines) while providing a sublime music-listening experience.

They’re definitely handy for the frequent traveler, people in busy office settings, people who live in noisy environments, or even those needing more hush while studying.

A number of people purchase noise-cancelling headphones to help them better concentrate, but in forums all over the online world, there are many that complain of pain and ear infection. Others report feeling sick. This naturally brings about the question – are noise-cancelling headphones safe? And if they truly do make people feel sick, how can you prevent or reduce any feelings of discomfort? More on all of this will be detailed below so keep reading and you’ll know the best tips for choosing the right noise-cancelling headphones for you.

What Can Happen to You after Wearing Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

First, it’s important to understand what risks might be looming on the horizon when you buy noise-cancelling headphones. This won’t happen to everyone that uses them, but it’s very wise to be prepared so you can know how to counter any ill effects.

Remember, many people use noise-cancelling headphones and have no complaints at all, except that they wished they bought them sooner to enjoy better music quality or a quieter surrounding.

■ Your Hearing Ability May Suffer

As a heads-up, you should know that wearing any type of headphones or earbuds – noise-cancelling or not – for prolonged periods of time with loud music pumping through it can cause damage to your hearing.

Noise-cancellation headphones are like any other headphones in that regard. You must take care not to blast your music so loudly that you do damage.

Think of it this way… if you’re riding a motorcycle on the highway or using a chainsaw to chop errant limbs off your tree, either of this can create around 100 decibels which can damage your hearing in just 30 minutes.

But listening to music with your earbuds or headphones not even at full volume (even at 70% of the max) puts you pretty darn close at around 85 decibels.

If you ride a motorcycle, chances are you wear a helmet to protect your head which can help handle the exposure to all those decibels.

And if you use a chainsaw frequently, hopefully you use some sort of protective measure for your ears.

If not, you’re doing severe damage to your hearing which will likely result in your need for hearing aids down the road.

This type of hearing loss is known as noise-induced hearing loss (or NIHL for short). It can be caused by quite a few things like motorcycles and chainsaws for example, as well as listening to music from your earbuds or headphones.

It’s preventable though so if you’ve been blasting your tunes too loud, change your tune by reducing the max volume you listen at to 60% of full volume and don’t listen for more than an hour at a time.

■ You May Get an Ear Infection

You know what else you might be doing wrong with your headphones and earbuds? If you’re sharing them, that’s another reason you might get sick from using them.

Again, this applies to all headphones and earbuds, not just those of the noise-cancellation variety.

When you use any of these in or over your ears, they raise the temperature in your ear canal. And when that happens, it can make it easier for abrasions inside the ear and bring about harmful bacteria.

Some people buy them used, and while we won’t judge you for that, we do advise that you consider buying them new instead.

It’s not just to ensure they are in top condition and covered by the manufacturer warranty. It’s also because you can get an ear infection from using someone’s pair.

Be sure that if you ever borrow anyone’s headphones or earbuds (or they borrow yours) that you disinfect them.

And beyond that, even when you buy them brand new and those babies are all yours, you should always clean them on the regular.

This will prevent any dust, debris, and buildup from entering your ears and causing infection. It should also go without saying that keeping your ears clean is imperative for good ear health. Don’t neglect this simple self-care task!

■ Your Inattention May Be Dangerous

Something else to think about when you’re wearing your noise-cancelling headphones (or any headphones) is to pay attention to your environment.

It’s one thing if you’re safely tucked away in your room or office, studying away, but it’s quite another if you’re walking or riding your bike down a busy street (or even a not-so-busy one).

Knowing when it’s appropriate to wear noise-cancellation headphones or crank up your favorite songs and zone out is extremely important for your safety.

In commuting situations, it helps to hear what’s going on. Yes, you don’t want to hear the rumble of the train on the tracks, but when you’re dashing through the station, turn down your volume a bit so you’re more aware of everything around you.

Being blissfully unaware of your environment is only a good thing once you’re in a contained place, like say an airplane cabin or a seat on your subway commute.

It’s never wise to completely drown out the world when you should be watching it. Not only can it be dangerous if you don’t hear a horn honking, but you also might not hear traffic sounds that would clue you into someone coming your way when you have the right of way to cross the street.

Furthermore, those with ill intents might take advantage of you by reaching into your bag, or approaching you without warning to do harm.

Always be aware of your surroundings by either pausing your music or turning it down enough when you’re in motion so you can be prepared for anything.

■ You Could Develop Vertigo

If you’ve ever felt off balance, that’s vertigo. It’s more than feeling off though… it often comes with dizziness, nausea, and even vomiting.

It feels like you’re moving when you’re not. This is caused by your inner ear, and often is the symptom of infections or diseases. When you use your headphones excessively, it can lead to vertigo.

And yes, that means any pair of headphones or earbuds. If you use them constantly, and loudly, you’re more likely to feel that unwell, off-balance vertigo feeling.

For some that get motion sickness through simulators (like some of the rides at big theme parks), you should definitely keep reading because you may be more prone to vertigo via your noise-cancelling headphones, but knowing that, there are ways to handle it so keep reading!

■ You’re Exposed to Radiation

Did you know that your Bluetooth technology is very possibly exposing you to radiation? More research needs to be explored but wireless headsets with Bluetooth capabilities are believed to emit low-frequency radiations. Certainly, that can’t be good.

The WHO (the World Health Organization, not the classic rock band) found in 2018 that radiation from radio frequency can create the same kind of biological effects that carcinogens create.

While this study was done on rats, it should be noted that these possibilities are out there. Of course, your cell phone emits radiation as well so take that into consideration.

Most of our world is full of unsavory emissions for which we should prepare and guard ourselves from. By exercising reasonable usage of these items, the old saying of all things in moderation seems to suffice.

How to Reduce the Risks of Getting Sick

Not everyone that uses noise-cancellation headphones gets sick from them. But if you’re looking into buying a pair of them, especially if you’ve had bouts with motion sickness before, you should definitely read these tips which will help you keep from getting sick while using noise-cancellation headphones.

■ Choose the Right Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Of absolute importance in avoiding getting sick from using noise-cancelling headphones, you must choose the right pair for your needs.

The best way to do this is decide what you’ll be using them for. Remember, noise-cancelling headphones come in active or passive forms.

These do not drown out conversations though, and you’ll want to examine our other articles on how to work around that and get the peace and quiet you’re after.

No matter which one – active or passive – or what your needs for it are, you should choose authentic noise-cancellation headphones that are of reputable quality.

Don’t go for the first cheap-priced option you see. Look at each set of noise-cancellation headphones and the features they include to make the best decision for yourself.

Check out the reviews across multiple platforms too. While you surely want to get the best deal possibly, don’t go on price alone to make your decision.

■ Make Sure You’re Listening to Something While Wearing Them

When you use noise-cancellation headphones, particularly of the active variety, you should make sure you use them while playing some sort of audio.

Whether you’re listening to an audio book or music, doing so will keep you from feeling pain while wearing them.

With active noise-cancellation (ANC) technology, it requires a microphone to pick up the ambient sound around you which is then mimicked.

This can make a hissing type of noise. When you’re listening to something else, it’s much less noticeable and much less disconcerting.

That noise on its own can make some people feel a bit woozy so bear this in mind.

■ Look at the Earpieces of Noise-Cancelling Headphones

It’s not just what you’ll be using noise-cancelling headphones for that should determine your decision.

Check out the specific earpieces and what they mean for you in terms of noise dampening and noise control.

There are many different styles to choose from and one could be ideally comfortable for you over another.

Are Noise Canceling Headphones Worth It?

In short, yes! Well, if you listen to music, commute, work in a busy place, or need a way to create more quiet in areas of chaos, they are absolutely worth it.

Noise-cancelling headphones have many different uses. Almost everyone can benefit from a pair of them.

What they do is cancel out the ambient sounds around you by creating competing sounds that make those other sounds null and void.

This is ideal for those that fly or ride trains often. It’s also helpful in busy office or student settings, allowing for better concentration, though it won’t stop conversations and random high-pitched sounds.

For that, we recommend you read about our tips for how to make conversations around you fade away.

You’ll find these an essential piece of technology on any mode of public transit, in the library for extra concentration on your studies, or in work environments with heavy machinery.

■ They Help You Concentrate

With noise-cancelling headphones, you reduce your exposure to noise pollution which allows you to focus on your tasks. It also protects you from hearing loss caused by being overexposed to too much noise.

There are reports that state over 100,000 people have permanent hearing loss as a direct result from noise at the workplace.

Noise-cancelling headphones are a huge help for people in these environments to keep their hearing.

And for those that don’t work in noisy environments with loud machinery all day long, around 1 billion people damage their hearing day after day by playing music too loudly and too long from their devices.

It’s recommended to use noise-cancelling headphones to help prolong your keen sense of hearing.

■ They Reduce Your Need to Turn up Music Too Loud

Let’s talk about music for a moment here, which is one of the reasons people get headphones in the first place.

Since the dawn of music creation, people have been screaming about how playing music too loudly will cause you to lose your hearing.

The WHO says that a good billion people put themselves at risk for hearing loss because of loud music.

Hearing loss can be prevented, according to Dr. Etienne Krug of the WHO. With proper prevention techniques, you can avoid losing your hearing too. Dr. Krug announced in a press release that half the youth of the world are at risk of being exposed to dangerous volumes that can damage hearing.

The result of playing music too loudly on personal devices is that you risk harming your hearing.

Most people listen within the range of 75 to 105 decibels and at those levels, even for just 15 minutes, it’s akin to the same loudness level an industrial worker who deals with noisy heavy machinery is exposed to in an 8-hour workday.

Let that sink in.

At this rate, you’ll completely ruin your hearing. But if you get noise-cancelling headphones, you can hear your music more clearly.

No more turning it up to hear it. Even at lower volumes, you can hear it with precision and clarity, allowing you to turn it down and still enjoy it.

Most people turn up the music to higher decibels in large part because external noises make it harder to hear.

The roar of the jet engine is a prime example. You likely turn up your device much louder than you would while flying from New York to Los Angeles than you do when you’re sitting at your desk.

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones puts volume into perspective and keeps you from doing unnecessary damage.

You will tune in better to your favorite band or that audio book, all without subjecting your ears to harmful decibel levels.

■ They Reduce Stress

Did you know that noise pollution can cause stress? It’s true! Studies found that children who lived in noisy environments had higher amount of the stress hormone known as cortisol than those of children that lived in more peaceful neighborhoods.

Noise pollution has long been shown to raise blood pressure and stress levels in tandem. Even the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America has released this information, and the results are indeed alarming.

Noise exposure doesn’t just harm hearing though. It harms your cognitive performance. Impaired well-being and motivation are the result of noise pollution, something you might not even realize.

Where do you live and work? In big, busy cities, you might be affected by constant low-level noise pollution and not even realize it.

This is why it’s imperative for you to get noise-cancelling headphones to protect your health. Still not convinced? Reports have shown that people that are exposed to constant low-level noises bear a greater risk for suffering from a heart attack.

Using noise-cancelling headphones can absolutely help reduce your risks for stress-related illnesses.

Don’t forget that every major chronic illness begins with chronic inflammation, something that you’ll wind up with when you’re always around that low-level noise.

A wise investment into your health and well-being is choosing a pair of properly-fitting, high-quality noise-cancelling headphones that work with your lifestyle to help you obtain more than just peace and quiet while listening to music… they’ll help you keep your hearing and overall health in check too.

■ They Make You More Productive

While this definitely goes hand-in-hand with concentration, noise-cancelling headphones can absolutely help you keep your concentration.

Sometimes, you’re stuck at the car dealership waiting for your car to be serviced or you’ve got to take your work on the road.

Instead of wasting precious time, you could be getting work done while you wait, but if you’re distracted, you can’t concentrate.

Some environments, like libraries, are designed for being a quiet space. But even then, depending on what you’re trying to work on or study, even the slight sound of a turning page or the low-level drone of the air conditioning unit could distract you.

Other times, you can tune these things out, but sometimes, you just can’t.

And in a place of business that isn’t your own, as you sit there praying the mechanic won’t charge you too much, you whip out your laptop, determined to make headway on your projects while you’re waiting. It’s not exactly a serene place for work.

There are little kids playing in the kids’ area. There’s another guy working nearby, barking orders to his assistant in his phone while loudly typing on his laptop.

A TV plays an endless stream of news in the background, and people are coming and going back and forth.

With noise-cancelling headphones, anywhere you go is your place of peace. No more will outside distractions detract from your quality of work.

They’re a wise investment for being more effective at what you need to do, whether it’s work or study. Even if you’re a daily train commuter, imagine how much more you could get done if you had a pair.

If the sights and sounds on the subway train distract you, wearing your noise-cancelling headphones can help keep you focused so you can answer those email inquiries fast and then get to work ready to dive into tasks without wasting time. There is truly no better gift than being more productive!

■ They Can Help You Sleep

Are you aware of how sleep problems can impact your entire life? If you regularly get into bed and find your eyes won’t shut, noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds could be just what you need for an overall better quality of life.

When you get the sleep you need on a regular basis, your health improves drastically.

The National Sleep Foundation states that around 62% of Americans have trouble sleeping most nights of the week.

When you don’t sleep well, you rely on medications and spend a fortune on doctors’ visits. On top of that, you don’t really treat the problem. You’re treating the symptoms. This keeps you feeling in a zombie-like state.

Instead, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and you might just find that noise was what kept you from falling asleep.

Whether it’s too silent in your room and you hear little creaks as your house settles or you hear the city outside.

Or your partner snores like they’re gargling with a pig choking on a chainsaw. Noise-cancelling headphones allow, especially when you pair them with ambient white noise, can create a harmonious sleeping environment for you.

Pair them with blackout soundproofing curtains and you’ll have the perfect environment for the best night’s sleep every night.


Noise-cancelling headphones do have the potential to make you sick if you’re not careful. Our detailed tips above should help you from feeling sick while using them.

To avoid illnesses, you should make sure to keep your noise-cancelling headphones clean, even if you’re the only one using them. And if you share them with anyone, be extra vigilant!

Noise-cancelling headphones have more benefits than drawbacks, but understanding how it all affects you is important for making the best decision when buying them.

Overall, they will be an asset in your life if you expose yourself to regular noise and can protect your hearing and health.


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