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Noise-canceling headphones can cause hearing problems: shocking study

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Apr17,2024

Noise-canceling headphones can cause hearing problems: shocking study

Noise Canceling can affect our hearing/bublikhaus

Headphones with noise canceling function offer a technical view of the world of sound. They treat everything in your natural environment as “noise” that can be discarded, allowing you to listen to only your favorite songs.

This technology is generally considered good for your ears as it reduces the overall noise level you are exposed to. But even though noise-canceling headphones are good for our hearing, it's a myth that this technology is completely good for us, writes Gizmodo.

Internet forums are full of people who complain of earaches, nausea and headaches from using noise-canceling headphones.These forums mostly share the same conspiracy theory that active noise cancellation (ANC) is dangerous because it puts harmful pressure on the eardrum. However, this is also not entirely true. According to David McAlpine, academic director of Macquarie University Hearing, there is a simpler explanation: not hearing your surroundings is unnatural.

McAlpine says noise-canceling headphones reduce the volume of sound reaching your ears, which is good for your hearing. Using ANC probably means you don't have to drown out background noise when listening to music at high volumes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that prolonged exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss.

However, excessive noise reduction can be problematic. McAlpine says your brain overcompensates for ANC by increasing the internal gain. He says it leads to “hearing loss”, because working with heightened sensitivity changes your neural pathways. In 2011, McAlpine wrote a paper in which he coined the term “hidden hearing loss,” referring to the inability of our brains to process sound, rather than the inability of our ears to hear it.

If you have hearing loss , it's like recoding your brain, McAlpine said in an interview. – Even if you can change what you hear, it doesn't mean that you don't hear that you don't hear. Even if you can change what you hear, you can't go back to the brain state you were in before. This is an irreversible process.

Noise-cancelling headphones can cause hearing problems: shocking study

< em>The absence of background noise is not characteristic of humans/Freepik photo

McAlpine describes what happens when people enter his university's silent cell, a virtually silent environment. He says people feel disoriented and describe pressure in the head and ears. The sensations are surprisingly similar to those that occur when people use noise canceling. The common thread is that your body is not adapted to complete silence, so people don't respond well without background noise. There is a disconnect between what you feel and what you hear.

< p class="quote">Intense sound damages hearing, so there are situations where noise-canceling headphones are beneficial. At the same time, background noise – features of the soundscape – is crucial for orientation in the environment,
says McAlpine.

In a 2012 study by McAlpine and co-author Hidden Hearing Loss, 17 subjects wore earplugs for a week. Eleven participants developed tinnitus, a common medical condition in which a person experiences a ringing or buzzing sound without an external source.

The study suggests that audio deprivation can affect the way your brain perceives sounds, even if your ears are intact. However, this condition disappeared after subjects removed the earplugs, so you don't have to worry about your noise-canceling headphones causing persistent tinnitus.

So, while ANC may be good for your ears, it can change your brain's ability to listen. The truth is that any time you use ANC, there is a trade-off. You hear the world with a different sensitivity, what McAlpine calls an “altered gain state.” If you spend enough time in this state, your brain can have a hard time “listening” at a normal volume.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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