Can Noise Cancelling Headphones Cause Headaches?

Noise cancelling headphones are a great way to enjoy your favorite music or podcasts without being disturbed by any external noise. They also help you focus better, and reduce stress levels. But do they have any drawbacks? Can noise cancelling headphones cause headaches or other health issues?

In this article, I will explain and answer how noise cancelling headphones work, what are the possible side effects of using them, and how to avoid them. By the end of this article, you will be able to make a decision about whether noise cancelling headphones are worth it or not.


How Noise Cancelling Headphones Work

There are two kinds of noise cancelling headphones passive noise cancellation (PNC) or active noise cancellation (ANC).

PNC headphones

create a physical seal over the ear so that you hear less background noise. They are more effective against high-frequency sounds, such as sirens, honking cars, etc.

PNC headphones are also called noise-isolating headphones because they only physically block out external noise without actually ‘canceling’ them.


ANC headphones

Anc Headphones use a sophisticated system that electronically manipulates external sound to cancel it out.

They have a built-in microphone that samples the ambient noise in your surroundings and feeds it into the noise-canceling system that creates a sound wave that goes against the noise and makes it disappear.

ANC headphones are more effective against low-frequency sounds, such as engine hum, airplane roar, train rumble, etc.


Pros and Cons

Both types of headphones have their pros and cons. PNC headphones are cheaper, simpler, and don’t require batteries, but they can be uncomfortable and bulky to wear for long periods. ANC headphones are more expensive, complex, and require batteries, but they can provide a more immersive and quiet listening experience.


What Are the Possible Side Effects of Noise Cancelling Headphones?

Noise cancelling headphones can cause some side effects for some people, depending on their sensitivity, usage habits, and personal preferences. Some of the most common side effects are:

Headaches: Some people may experience headaches after using noise cancelling headphones for some time. This can be due to many reasons, such as:

  • The pressure created by the physical seal of PNC headphones or the artificial silence of ANC headphones can cause discomfort and pain in the head and ears.


  • The difference between the sound pressure inside and outside the ear can cause a feeling of imbalance and dizziness.


  • The lack of natural ambient sounds can make some people feel isolated and anxious.


  • The exposure to loud music or sounds can damage the hearing and cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears).



 Some people may feel nauseous or motion sick when using noise cancelling headphones, especially ANC ones. This can be due to:


  • The mismatch between what the ears hear and what the eyes see can confuse the brain and cause vertigo.


  • The reduction of external sounds can make some people more aware of their own bodily sounds, such as heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, etc., which can be unsettling.


  • The change in air pressure inside the ear can affect the inner ear balance system and cause nausea.


Ear infections:

Some people may develop ear infections or irritation when using noise cancelling headphones for a long time. This can be due to:


  • The accumulation of sweat, dirt, bacteria, or wax inside the ear canal or on the ear pads can cause inflammation and infection.


  • The lack of ventilation inside the ear cups can create a heated and humid environment that is conducive to bacterial growth.


  • The rubbing or friction of the ear pads against the skin can cause abrasion and irritation.


How to Avoid or Minimize the Side Effects of Noise Cancelling Headphones?

The good news is that most of these side effects are not serious and can be avoided following some simple tips:

Choose the right type and size of headphones: Depending on your needs, you may opt for PNC or ANC headphones, or a combination of both. You may also choose between over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear models. Make sure that your headphones fit well and comfortably on your ears without being too tight or loose.


Adjust the volume and duration of use: To prevent hearing damage and tinnitus, avoid listening to loud music or sounds for a long time. Keep the volume at a moderate level and take breaks every hour or so to rest your ears and let them adjust to the natural sounds around you.


Use noise cancelling headphones only when necessary: To prevent feeling isolated, anxious, or dizzy, use noise cancelling headphones only when you need to block out unwanted noise, such as when traveling, studying, working, etc.

Don’t use them when you need to be aware of your surroundings, such as when driving, walking, cycling, etc. Don’t use them when you want to enjoy the natural sounds of nature, music, or people.

 Clean and maintain your headphones regularly: To prevent ear infections and irritation, clean and sanitize your headphones regularly. Wipe the ear pads and ear tips with a damp cloth or alcohol wipes. Replace them if they are worn out or damaged. Keep your headphones in a dry and cool place when not in use.

Our Top Picks


If you are looking for a pair of high quality headphones that can suit your needs, you may want to check out some of the best options handpicked by us. Here are some of the top-rated headphones that you can buy online:

H17T Bluetooth headset
Zero Latency For Gaming
TWS Wireless Headphones
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Sports Headphones



Noise cancelling headphones are a great invention that can enhance your listening experience and improve your quality of life. However, they can also cause some side effects for some people, such as headaches, and, ear infections, etc. These side effects are usually mild and temporary and can be avoided or minimized by following some simple tips.