Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Headaches?

Noise-canceling headphones are ideal for concentrating fully on your music or podcast without external sounds spoiling the experience. If you’re considering getting a pair, you may wonder if they can cause headaches.

Noise-canceling headphones can cause headaches if you wear them too tightly around your ears or head, as they can press on a nerve. Additionally, if your headphones use active noise cancelation, the sound waves can give you a headache, as well as listening to content at a high volume.

Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Headaches

In this article, I’ll explain why your head may hurt with noise-canceling headphones and if it’s bad to wear them the whole day. I’ll also explain if noise-canceling headphones can hurt your ears and if there’s anything you can do to prevent headaches while wearing them.

Also read: Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Protect Hearing?

Why Does My Head Hurt With Noise Cancelling?

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Do you often get headaches when wearing noise-canceling headphones? Don’t worry, because this is common and usually not serious.

Your head hurts with noise-canceling headphones because many use active noise cancelation (ANC) that creates extra sound waves to counteract the external noise, making your brain work doubly hard. A tight headphone band and listening to content at a high volume can also make your head hurt.

Below, I’ll explain in more detail why noise-canceling headphones can make your head hurt.

The Headphones’ Noise-Canceling Mechanism

Noise-canceling headphones can work in two ways to remove the background noise:

  • Blocking external noise completely through soundproofing.
  • Electronically canceling external noise with additional sound waves.

The first method involving soundproofing is called Passive Noise Cancelation (PNC) and doesn’t typically cause headaches. These noise-canceling headphones have ear coverings made of soundproofing material to block the external noise.

The second is an electronic method called Active Noise Cancelation (ANC), which is more complex. It uses the headphones’ built-in microphone to assess the external noise’s frequency.

The microphone then produces sound waves in the same frequency, which travel to the noise-canceling mechanism, where they are inverted. The two sets of sound waves cancel each other out when the lowest frequency waves collide with the highest frequency ones.

This process is called destructive interference, and even though you can’t hear it happening, your brain must work hard to process these opposing frequencies, often resulting in a headache.

If you think your head hurts because of your headphones’ Active Noise Cancelation mechanism, you might consider replacing them with ones that use Passive Noise Cancelation.

The Tight Headphone Band

Noise-canceling headphones consist of two earpieces and a plastic band connecting them. When the band is too tight against your head, this can make it hurt.

When wearing noise-canceling headphones for an extended period, the band exerts constant pressure on your head. The band can press against your cutaneous nerves and your temporal bone if it’s tight enough, resulting in a compression headache.

The pain can extend down to the neck and jaw in extreme cases.

Wearing glasses can make compression headaches from noise-canceling headphones worse because there are two objects putting pressure on your skull.

The good news is that most noise-canceling headphones are adjustable. If you think you’re getting headaches because your headphone band is too tight, try loosening the band to relieve the pressure.

If you don’t want a loose headphone band, you could try using noise-canceling earbuds, which don’t have any objects exerting pressure on the head.

The Headphones’ High Volume

Noise-canceling headphones are a great way to enjoy listening to your favorite music at a high volume.

Unfortunately, listening to loud music or content can hurt your head. Listening to loud sounds through headphones can make the superficial blood vessels in your head widen, and these dilated blood vessels can put pressure on the skull’s trigeminal sensory nerve fibers, which respond by releasing proteins to cause a headache.

If you get migraines often, it might be best to lower the volume, as listening to high-volume content with your noise-canceling headphones can trigger a migraine.

Lowering the volume is an easy way to prevent headaches from listening to loud content through your noise-canceling headphones. It might be worth trying, as listening to long-term loud music can cause hearing loss.

Is It Bad To Wear Noise-Cancelling Headphones All Day?

Many people enjoy wearing noise-canceling headphones all day as they help them concentrate better on their work and studies and effectively block out distracting noises. If you wear your noise-canceling headphones all day, is it bad?

It is not bad to wear noise-canceling headphones all day unless they give you headaches or earaches. However, wearing noise-canceling headphones can reduce noise pollution exposure, which is a great health benefit.

Also read: Is it Bad or Safe To Sleep With Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

As long as your noise-canceling headphones don’t give you headaches or earaches, you can safely wear them all day while working or studying without any negative health risks.

However, it is dangerous to wear noise-canceling headphones when you’re driving or outside jogging, cycling or walking as you won’t hear cars honking, sirens, people shouting, or other warning signs of danger.

Many states don’t allow drivers to wear noise-canceling headphones, earbuds, or regular headphones due to the safety risk. California, for example, doesn’t allow them for driving or cycling, so it’s worth checking what the laws are in your state.

If you wear noise-canceling headphones to reduce noise pollution (such as the constant hum of a plane’s engine or a noisy neighborhood) your health could benefit as you’re more likely to get a better quality night’s sleep and not suffer eardrum damage from loud noises.

Does Noise-Cancelling Hurt Your Ears?

Are you thinking about buying a pair of noise-canceling headphones? If so, you may have some concerns about whether or not they can hurt your ears.

Noise-canceling headphones can hurt your ears if the earpieces are too tight and inflame your pinna. If you use them for extended periods, they can also cause TMJ disorders, ear infections, sound pressure, tinnitus, and listener fatigue.

I’ll discuss these issues in more detail below:

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Can Cause Pressure Pain

Wearing tightly-fitted earpieces can exert pressure on your outer ear, the pinna. The pinna is surprisingly sensitive and delicate, and constantly compressing it can inflame and hurt it.

It’s advisable to use well-fitting noise-canceling headphones to avoid earaches. Earpieces that are too loose might cause you to turn up the volume to hear better, causing inner ear damage. However, if your earpieces are too tight, they can pinch your ears and hurt them.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Can Cause TMJ Disorder

Continuously using noise-canceling headphones can cause TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems. The temporomandibular joint connects the skull and the lower jaw (or mandible) on both sides of your head.

Most TMJ problems from headphones are because they are too tight or don’t fit you properly. Constant pressure on the TMJ joint can inflame it and the surrounding soft tissues, resulting in jaw and ear pain.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Can Cause Tinnitus

The most common symptom of tinnitus is buzzing or ringing in the ears, with occasional tenderness or pain.

Regularly using noise-canceling headphones at a high volume can damage the tiny and delicate hairs in your cochlea (inner ear) when they receive intense soundwaves.

If you think you have tinnitus, it’s best to consult your doctor and lower the volume in your noise-canceling headphones.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Can Cause Listener Fatigue

If you listen to music or podcasts for extended periods through your noise-canceling headphones, you might experience listener fatigue.

Like all the body’s organs, ears need an occasional rest, and exposing them to a constant stream of sound can tire them out and sometimes make them feel painful.

Take regular breaks when using noise-canceling headphones to prevent listener fatigue and subsequent ear pain.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Can Increase Sound Pressure

High-quality noise-canceling headphones usually have powerful and effective speakers, which is great noise for your music enjoyment but bad news for your ears.

The more powerful your headphones’ speakers are, the more pressure they will exert on your inner ear and eardrum. When there is a significant difference between the pressure on your inner ear and the external pressure, it can damage your inner ear structure, resulting in intense ear pain.

If you think that this is making your ears hurt, consider turning the volume down and to see if it helps.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones Can Cause Ear Infections

Do you regularly use and share your noise-canceling headphones? If so, you may be susceptible to ear infections caused by bacteria on your headphones’ earpieces.

The bacteria can multiply and infect your outer or inner ear, resulting in ear pain, dizziness, and temporary hearing loss.

Sharing headphones is not recommended, but if you don’t have a choice, wipe the earpieces thoroughly with an antibacterial wipe before using them and encourage the other users to do the same.


Noise-canceling headphones are incredibly effective at blocking out external sound, but if they use active noise cancelation, the inaudible sound waves can give you a headache.

Headphones that are too tight or listening to music at high volume can also give you a headache.

If your headphones are too tight against your ear, they can hurt your pinna or cause TMJ disorders if they press against the joint connecting the jaw and ear. Additionally, noise-canceling headphones with good quality speakers can cause a difference in pressure and give you an earache, and sharing headphones can give you an ear infection.


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