Why Do Noise Canceling Headphones Hurt My Ears?

A lady tears off her helmet which suppresses the noise and grimaces with pain.Gang Liu / Shutterstock

Does your new pair of noise canceling earphones create a painful feeling of "pressure" on your ears? It turns out that your mind is playing tricks on you.

Over the past decade, hearing aids have become more common, more affordable and more effective. But as headphones filter external sounds better, more and more people are complaining that they have caused ear pain, headaches and a feeling of "pressure" in the ear. the inner ear. further than 2009so why has this problem not been solved yet? Well, first we need to understand the operation of the earmuffs.

ANC Headphones Listen to external noises and cancel them

Contrary to popular belief, active noise canceling headphones (or ANC) do not block noise by physically shielding your ear from external sound waves. They do not like fluffy shorts earmuffs; these are just small pieces of plastic. So, how do the ANC headphones cancel the sound?

Like the light, the sound travels in the air by "waves". Just as different frequencies of light are recognized as different colors, different frequencies of sound are perceived as different heights.

The sound is that the sound is a "pressure wave". Unlike light, the sound is able to move through solid objects, such as walls, water and a plastic helmet. Low frequency sound waves are particularly effective for moving in solid objects (think of a bass drum), but high frequency sounds (like the unpleasant sound of a CRT TV) are not as effective at move in objects.

A diagram showing how noise suppression worksWikipedia

Thus, ANC headphones aim to eliminate low frequency sounds. To do this, they monitor your sound environment with a built-in microphone, identify the frequencies of those noises and fly off your ears with an anti-noise wave that cancels unwanted external sounds.

It sounds complicated, but it's easy to understand. An anti-noise wave is essentially a mirror version of the sound your headset is trying to eliminate. This is the same frequency (pitch) of unwanted noise, but with reversed polarity (again, a mirror version). When two sounds of opposite polarities meet, they are both canceled. It's weird, but it's science.

Why do my ears feel "pressure" on an airplane?

ANC earphones suppress noise by emitting a noise wave in your ears. But why do they hurt the ears and cause headaches?

Most people describe the sensation of ANC earphones as a kind of "pressure" on the ears, such as changes in atmospheric pressure resulting from climbing into an airplane or diving into the oceans. It is therefore important to understand how atmospheric pressure works (and how it relates to the perception of sound) before trying to understand why ANC headphones exert pressure on your ears.

Atmospheric pressure (also called atmospheric pressure and barometric pressure) is the force exerted on a surface by its atmosphere. The gravity of our Earth constantly draws the atmosphere down, so that the air in low altitude climates (the bottom of the ocean) is denser than high altitude climates ( a mountain peak or an airplane in flight).

However, atmospheric density is not what causes painful pressure in the ears. This feeling of "pressure" makes the difference between the atmospheric pressure of your inner ears and the atmospheric pressure of your environment. If you are at high altitude, the air in your ears wants to escape. If you are low and under a ton of pressure, your inner ears need more air so they do not collapse. When you "pierce" your ears, you simply balance your in-ear air pressure with the atmospheric pressure of your environment and the feeling of "pressure" disappears.

ANC headphones do not put pressure on your ears

But your brain is not content with ear pain and headaches to determine when atmospheric pressure changes. It also indicates how your middle ear is vibrating.

When you ride a plane for the first time, your ear has an air density greater than that of your environment. As a result, your inner ear is a bit like a balloon, it is under a lot of pressure and does not vibrate much. This lack of vibration causes a decrease in low frequency hearing, so your brain tends to work assuming that a low frequency hearing loss indicates a change in air pressure. (That's also why you can hear better in an airplane after jumping to your ears.)

A man enjoying the soft sound of his headphones with noise cancellationKite_rin / Shutterstock

Remember that ANC headphones aim to cancel low-frequency ambient noise, such as the sound of an engine? Sometimes this can cause your brain to perceive a change in atmospheric pressure.

Of course, your brain does not really feel pain or discomfort. So, he begins to emulate these feelings to encourage you to open your ears. Crushing your ears does not solve the lack of low frequency ambient sound, the feeling of pain and pressure can increase until you remove your ANC headset.

Some people are not designed for ANC helmets

Some people do not feel any discomfort when using an ANC helmet. Others have become used to the sensation over time, but some people can not overcome the feeling of "pressure" that can cause ANC headphones.

So, if your brand new ANC helmet causes a feeling of "pressure", ear pain, jaw and headaches, your options for dealing with the situation are minimal. You can use the headphones for about 15 minutes and hope your brain adjusts, or you can return them and reinvest your money in soundproof earphones or a shooting earmuffs put on a pair of regular headphones.

Just keep in mind that even if your brain "makes" a feeling of pain, it does not make the pain less real. If your brain refuses to fit an ANC headset, you should stop there. There is no reason to torture yourself (or hurt yourself) just to block the ambient noise when listening to podcasts.

sources: The Friedel Chronicles / Medium, Wikipedia, Touch Star

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