Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing? A Comprehensive Analysis - The Hill Hear Better Clinic
do noise cancelling headphones protect hearing

In recent years, the popularity of noise-canceling headphones has skyrocketed. With technology rapidly advancing, noise-canceling headphones are no longer a luxury item, but can be found in many households worldwide. However, with the convenience of these headphones also come questions about their effect on hearing health.

Many people wonder, “Does noise canceling protect your ears?” or “Do AirPods protect hearing?” In this blog post, we will dive into the effectiveness of noise-canceling headphones in protecting hearing, address the factors influencing their performance, and provide our insights on the topic.

Let’s start by exploring the science behind noise-canceling headphones and how they work to protect hearing.

The Science Behind Noise-Canceling Headphones 

Noise-canceling headphones use active noise cancellation (ANC) technology to prevent background sound from reaching your ears. By producing an ‘anti-noise’ signal that cancels out some of the sounds, ANC minimizes the volume of external sounds reaching your ears.

The anti-noise is generated by microphones that detect background sound and create an ‘inverse’ of the noise before it reaches your ears. This creates an opposing waveform that cancels out what the microphone is picking up, reducing the amount of sound hitting your eardrums.

Noise-canceling headphones can effectively reduce noise exposure, but their effectiveness depends on several factors. It’s important to understand how different types of noises affect your hearing health and how much sound intensity is reduced by the ANC.

For instance, low-frequency sounds (think of the rumble of a car engine) require more seal around or in the ear to cancel out than high-frequency sounds. Additionally, noise-canceling headphones are not designed to protect against sudden loud noises, so if you’re exposed to a sudden loud sound such as a gunshot, ANC won’t be able to protect your hearing.

What the Experts at the Hill Hear Better Clinic Have to Say

It depends on the seal the headphones get. 

Noise-canceling headphones work best when they fit snugly over your ears. When the seal is imperfect, sound can still enter through the gaps in the ear cup and diminish the noise cancellation effects. It’s important to ensure you have a good seal when using noise-canceling headphones to get the most out of their protective benefits.

There isn’t great research on how much noise canceling actually protects your ears.

Current research on the actual extent of hearing protection offered by noise-canceling headphones is limited. While noise-canceling technology can effectively reduce the perception of external sounds, it does not necessarily eliminate the potential for hearing damage.

In noise-canceling headphones, a microphone captures external sounds, and the internal speaker generates a counteracting sound wave that is 180 degrees out of phase. This process effectively nullifies the external sound at ear level. However, it is important to note that the sound pressure from external noise sources still exists even with active noise cancellation in place.

The simplest form of protection over time is simple foam plugs (slow release).

When it comes to sustained hearing protection over time, simple foam earplugs with slow-release properties are an excellent choice. These affordable and widely available hearing protection devices provide a reliable and effective barrier against harmful noise levels, making them a popular choice for long-term use.

Slow-release foam earplugs are designed to expand gradually once inserted into the ear canal, ensuring a snug and secure fit. This controlled expansion helps to create an effective seal against noise, reducing the sound transmission to your ears and offering a high level of noise reduction.

It depends on the noise level on how much reduction is necessary.

The amount of noise reduction necessary to protect your hearing depends on the intensity and duration of the sounds you’re exposed to. Different noise levels call for varying degrees of hearing protection, and understanding the specific requirements of your situation is crucial in ensuring optimal hearing safety.

Noise levels are typically measured in decibels (dB). Prolonged exposure to sounds exceeding 85 dB can cause hearing damage, and the risk increases with higher decibel levels and longer durations of exposure. For instance, a rock concert with noise levels around 110 dB would require greater hearing protection than a busy city street, which usually falls in the range of 70-85 dB. To determine the appropriate level of noise reduction, it’s essential to assess your environment and identify the potential hazards.

It depends on if you also want to introduce other sounds, like listening to music.

When considering hearing protection, it’s important to take into account whether you also want to introduce other sounds, such as music or podcasts, while reducing external noise. Striking a balance between effective noise reduction and enjoying personal audio is essential to ensure both hearing protection and an enjoyable listening experience.

Our Conclusion

For those worried about hearing protection, it’s important to evaluate the noise levels of your environment and identify what level of sound reduction is necessary for protection. 

Noise-canceling headphones can greatly reduce external noise and introduce personal sound, but it’s important to note that they aren’t a complete solution.

For maximum hearing protection over time, slow-release foam or custom earplugs are the best choice. At Hill Hear Better Clinic, our experienced audiologists can provide comprehensive advice and guidance on the best products and practices for hearing protection. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help protect your hearing.