Active noise-canceling headphones: a blend of silence and safety

Increasingly widespread, especially among young people, noise-cancelling headphones hide dangers for our hearing: here they are

Active noise-canceling (ANC) headphones are sophisticated devices engineered to dampen ambient noise, allowing users to immerse themselves in music, audiobooks, or podcasts without external interruptions. Made from sound-absorbing materials, these headphones fully enclose the ears to block out environmental noise.

Additionally, they are equipped with internal microphones that capture surrounding sounds and produce opposite sound waves to negate external noise. Rapidly becoming the new “object of desire” for those working or studying in noisy environments, and for those seeking a complete and enveloping listening experience, ANC headphones raise an important question: are they safe for our hearing?

The expert opinion on safety

Experts agree that using these devices for many hours a day can have negative effects on how the brain processes sounds and can decrease environmental awareness.

Interview insights from Fox News

In a recent interview with Fox News, Josh Gordon, head of innovation at Singapore technology firm Geonode, highlighted the growing concerns over the widespread use of noise-canceling headphones. Gordon pointed out several risks:

  • Reduced Environmental Awareness: Noise-canceling headphones can mask vital sounds such as car horns, ambulance sirens, or safety announcements, increasing the risk of accidents or injuries, especially in street or public settings.
  • Hearing Damage: Extended use of noise-canceling headphones, especially at high volumes, can damage the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss, tinnitus, and difficulties in processing sounds.
  • Auditory Processing Issues: Constant exposure to loud noises can desensitize the brain, making it harder to interpret speech and other subtle sounds.
  • Ear Infections: If not cleaned regularly, headphones can trap moisture and bacteria, increasing the risk of ear infections.
  • Balance and Spatial Awareness Problems: Excessive use of headphones can diminish reliance on natural sound cues, causing balance issues and spatial awareness problems.

Are noise-canceling headphones to be demonized?

Not entirely. These devices are indeed useful for maintaining high concentration and avoiding external sound distractions. However, they should be used wisely—set at an appropriate volume (below 85 decibels) and not worn for extended periods (a maximum of two to three hours per day).

Gordon also recommends following the 60/60 rule—keeping the volume at 60% or less and taking a break every 60 minutes to give your ears a rest.

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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