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Fearing the risk of traditional headphone options, consumers have increasingly turned to noise cancelling headphones as a safer alternative. These headphones, which largely work to cancel out external sounds, are generally billed as safer options.
But, are noise cancelling headphones safe for your ears? While it’s true that noise cancelling headphones offer superior protection against damage to ears than more traditional options, wearers must not mistake this to mean that these headphones ensure maximum safety.
In reality, there are several health benefits to wearing noise cancelling headphones, particularly when it comes to long term hearing. Read my post on noise cancelling headphones and hearing protection.
Despite this, there are a number of drawbacks that must be addressed when looking at the broader issue of user safety.
Safety Of Noise Cancelling Headphones Is Only Relative
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly half a billion youth position themselves for permanent hearing damage through the use of personal audio devices.
Many devices, such as phones and MP3 players, are designed to sound up to 100 decibels—putting individuals at risk for permanent hearing loss within just fifteen minutes.
Earlier in the article, I had stated clearly that noise cancelling headphone are safe.
But how true is this? In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at what exactly noise cancelling headphones are and examine the health benefits and risks of wearing them.
Overall, I find noise-cancelling headphones to be a much safer alternative to traditional headphones, despite coming with risks of their own.
With this being said, let’s find out more about how these headphones can affect you.
What Are Noise Cancelling Headphones?
If you’ve never purchased noise cancelling headphones or aren’t sure how they work, it’s important to start with a working definition of what these headphones actually are.
In a nutshell, noise cancelling headphones serve to cancel out ambient sounds so that wearers aren’t distracted by what’s going on around them. In this context, ambient sounds are any sounds coming from the external environment and not the headphones.
In general, there are two types of noise cancelling headphones: active and passive. Active noise cancelling headphones are the more advanced of the two options.
Essentially, these headphones use digital processors to combat incoming ambient sound waves by transmitting “mirror-image” soundwaves that effectively cancel out the sound.
Passive noise cancelling headphones are generally the cheaper of the two options and simply block out ambient sound through headphone material.
Both options prove effective at cancelling out external noise, though active noise cancelling headphones tend to cover lower frequencies while passive noise cancelling headphones better cancel out higher frequencies.
Benefits of Wearing Noise Cancelling Headphones
In general, noise cancelling headphones offer wearers several key health benefits over traditional headphone options.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of wearing noise cancelling headphones.
1. Loud Noises Can Be Damaging
According to data, listening to sound at anything over 85 decibels can pose long-term health risks for headphone wearers.
Ideally, users are advised to keep their headphone usage within the 60-85 decibels range (and even then only for a period lasting up to eight hours). Because hearing loss is irreversible, it’s crucial that wearers not exceed this threshold, either in decibel or in duration.
The truth of the matter, however, is that many individuals only exceed this threshold so that the sound within their headphones outweighs the ambient noise around them. This means that noise cancelling headphones offer serious health benefits to wearers.
By cancelling out external sound, these headphones make it easier and more natural for wearers to turn down the volume.
2. No Low-Level Radiation
What’s more, unlike other technological devices, noise cancelling headphones do not emit any low-level radiation. In short, this means that noise cancelling headphones pose no risk of cancer or other health diseases associated with radiation.
This also means that wearers are free to wear their headphones as long as they please—as long as they keep the volume low. In short, noise cancelling headphones are safe to keep in close proximity to the face and head and pose absolutely no radiation risk for wearers.
3. Reduced Stress
The benefits of noise cancelling headphones aren’t limited to physical health, however. Many consumers have turned to the devices as a relaxation tool that helps cancel out unwanted external sounds. This makes noise cancelling headphones the ideal tool for sleeping, studying, or other situations where quiet is desired.
According to some psychiatrists, unwanted ambient noise functions as more than just an annoyance. For many individuals, this external sound can be interpreted as an invasion of privacy, causing irritation, anger, and frustration. Following this, the benefits of wearing noise cancelling headphones become clear.
In short, noise cancelling headphones result in less stress for the wearer. By blocking out excess sounds, those with noise cancelling headphones don’t have to worry about or stress over what’s going on around them. For many, this leads to a serious reduction in stress levels and an improvement in overall mental health.
4. Can Improve Focus
Building on this, noise cancelling headphones are the perfect tool for those who need to focus on the task at hand. In short, they provide a way for individuals to stay concentrated on the work in front of them—no matter how crazy the environment surrounding them may get.
For this reason, many students have turned to noise cancelling headphones as study devices that can help them focus on their work.
Others have made use of noise cancelling headphones as the perfect tool for staying concentrated on their work at the office.
As is evident, then, noise cancelling headphones offer a variety of benefits that can help promote the physical and mental health of the wearer. With the right pair of noise cancelling headphones, wearers can remain safe while increasing productivity.
Safety Concerns of Noise Cancelling Headphones
That being said, noise cancelling headphones do come with their own share of drawbacks. In order to determine if using noise cancelling headphones is right for you, consider the following information.
By keeping the following concerns in mind, you can help protect you and your loved ones from any unnecessary risk.
1. Cords Can Be Dangerous for Kids
Are noise cancelling headphones safe? It might depend on whom you ask.
If you plan to buy them for yourself, you may be able to cut down on some safety concerns. If you’re buying them for your children, however, there are further considerations you should keep in mind.
Most notably, headphones with cords may prove to be dangerous for children—especially younger ones. Because it’s possible that they may unintentionally strangle or hang themselves from the cords, it’s important that parents invest only in cordless options for their children.
Parents who do choose to buy non-cordless headphones should supervise their children’s use of them at all times. Additionally, any headphones that are bought should be placed out of reach of kids. This will help cut down on one of the major risks that buying noise cancelling headphones may incur.
Read my guide on choosing noise cancelling headphones for kids.
2. Tight Fits Can Cause Damage
Another risk of buying noise cancelling headphones is that they can sometimes be too small. This can cause comfort issues and prolonged damage if worn for too long.
This proves to be an especially important concern when buying headphones for children. Children may not complain of tight fits. In this case, they are particularly vulnerable to any nerve or other types of damage that can accumulate from wearing headphones that are too tight.
Fortunately, you can reduce the chances of buying headphones that are too small by shopping in stores. By being able to try out headphones before you buy, you can be sure that they are the right size for you or your children.
What are some signs that your headphones may be too tight? Other than initial pain and discomfort, you may also start to have chronic headaches if you wear your headphones for too long. Children, too, may complain of having a headache. If this is the case, make sure that you check the size of your child’s headphones.
3. Not All Noises Are Cancelled
Depending on the noise cancelling headphones you get, not all noises may be cancelled. This leaves you susceptible to hearing certain noises that may be damaging to your ears.
Those wearing passive noise cancelling headphones, for example, may be more susceptible to certain sounds than others.
As noted, active noise cancelling headphones work better and provide for a better overall reduction in sound, even if they are best used to combat low frequencies. This helps to reduce both low and high-frequency sounds that could be damaging one’s ears.
Those wearing passive headphones, however, may still be subject to a variety of low-frequency noises that are damaging to the ear. For this reason, those looking to maximize the safety of their headphones should invest in an active pair. This works to provide a more comprehensive and safer reduction in overall sound levels.
4. Faulty Headphones Can Provide False Security
Also, when considering the safety of noise cancelling headphones, one cannot overlook one important factor: that in order for headphones to provide the right protection, they have to be functional.
In other words, older devices may have wear and tear that makes them not as reliable—allowing more sounds to slip through. This can have dangerous repercussions on one’s hearing.
Additionally, if one were to use purchase a defect pair of headphones and not realize it, they may place themselves in areas with relatively high exposure to noise. For those using the devices as soundproofing tools, this ultimately may do more damage to them than good.
For this reason, individuals should be encouraged to make sure that they’re noise-cancelling headphones are current. If not, you may be at risk of increased noise exposure due to aging and failing equipment.
5. Misuse Can Be Dangerous
Finally, one must remember that while these headphones may not be so intrinsically bad for one’s health, they can encourage bad behavior.
For instance, though some see the noise cancelling capabilities of these headphones as incentive to turn down the volume, many who are attracted to these headphones may start to listen to music louder than before to take full advantage of the technology. This could lead to potentially damaging repercussions.
In other words, those who are encouraged to listen to their music even louder are actually doing a disservice to themselves. For this reason, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when determining how loud one’s music can be.
What’s more, it’s important that consumers understand what noise cancelling capabilities actually entail. Unfortunately, some take this to mean that these headphones protect against any noises. In reality, noise cancelling headphones can be just as damaging as regular options when users exceed the recommended decibel count.
So are noise cancelling headphones safe?
My final verdict is: yes and no.
Though these headphones don’t feature many inherent dangers, they can encourage a number of damaging behaviors—such as listening to loud music, for instance.
In terms of their outside noise reduction, however, these headphones prove to be a solid choice. The fact that they don’t emit low-level radiation like many other products on the market today helps them score a little bit higher in our estimation.
Additionally, because many of the factors detracting from noise cancelling headphones can be mitigated by changing one’s own life
However, if you do plan on buying noise cancelling headphones, make sure that you keep the following pointers in mind:
- Buy Cordless
- Don’t Listen to Loud Music
- Buy Headphones That Fit
By following these three steps, you can help ensure the safety of yourself and your family. Remember that when used in moderation, noise cancelling headphones can actually have a number of positive effects on one’s body—such as reduced stress and better-protected hearing.
Keep our guide above in mind as you determine whether these noise cancelling headphones are right for you.