Noise-Canceling Headphones Make Some People Sick
Users are complaining of dizziness and nausea when using noise-canceling headphones like AirPods. While the cause is unknown, some hearing experts have theories.
It took less than a week for Shaun McGill to ditch his new Apple AirPods Pro — the latest wireless headphones equipped with a noise cancellation feature — and return them to the Apple Store. No stranger to earbuds, the 49-year-old frequently wears headphones, including the original AirPods, for hours at a time while listening to music and podcasts. However, after a few hours with the new buds nestled snug in his ears, McGill began to feel dizzy and unable to stand up, “sort of like a sugar low, but more extreme,” he says.
Since the popularization of consumer-grade noise-canceling headphones in the early 2000s, users have reported dizziness, nausea, eardrum pain, and headaches while using gear with active noise cancellation. As early as 2008, consumers said Bose QuietComfort3 headphones caused dizziness, and many people on Reddit are complaining about ear pressure, shortness of breath, and dizziness while using the new AirPods Pro. (Apple did not respond to a request for comment.)
The effects of headphone volume on hearing loss are widely studied, but research is lacking on other side effects of audio technology, specifically noise cancellation. Why some people feel dizzy while using earbuds is unknown, but some experts have theories.
Noise-canceling headphones either actively or passively eliminate ambient sounds. Passive noise-canceling headphones use physical materials, like foam, to block out outside noises, which is why these are commonly over-ear styles. Active noise-canceling headphones, like Apple’s AirPods Pro, minimize lower-frequency tones, such as the hum of an airplane engine, by using the device’s built-in microphone and audio processor to analyze the background noise and create an opposite frequency that effectively cancels out the ambient sound. Because the inner ear affects both hearing and balance, sound can impact equilibrium. For some people, activating the noise-canceling function may cause dizziness and eardrum pressure.
“If you have something…