Airline Pilot — Tinnitus from ANR/ANC (Noise-Cancelling) Headphones?

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself' started by DITB, Dec 28, 2019.

    1. DITB

      DITB Member

      Location:
      Hong Kong
      Tinnitus Since:
      2018 (unsure)
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Not sure. I have started to suspect ANR technology ..
      I work as an airline pilot. The big tinnitus is a big no-no here, if it starts affecting your medical (hearing test). Pilots are generally tested at 500, 1000, 2000 and 3000 Hz. Hearing loss limits are 35dB except at 3000Hz, it's 50dB. If you get above that limit, you have to have a practical test to prove you can hear what you need to hear.

      When using noise cancelling headphones, colleagues and friends have often asked me how it can be BETTER for your ears to introduce MORE noise. I try to explain about phasing out, how +1 + -1 = 0.

      That is the THEORY anyway. Reality is a bit more complicated.

      I will do what I can to protect my ears. On a train station, when an approaching train makes a loud and high pitch sound from the brakes, I am usually the (only) one who is holding my ears. I don't go to loud concerts.

      But I work as a pilot. The white noise in the flight deck is very loud, and we use the supplied (Sennheiser) noise cancelling headphones. Less noise, that's great, right? During the climb, and until top of descent, we don't use headphones. On long haul flights, it becomes uncomfortable to use on-ear headphones for that long, so we take them off (company policy)

      Some use foam earplugs. Some use custom molded earplugs (I did for a long time, but lost my latest pair last year). Some use noise cancelling earphones: A very popular model is the Bose QC20 - so I got one of those myself just a few weeks ago. Plugging it into the airplane, I can hear the radios just fine. Hearing my colleague(s) in the flight deck can be an issue, though, if they don't speak loud enough.

      I have an increasing tinnitus tone, and it has only increased since I got the QC20 headphones from Bose. I have been doing a lot of testing of my own ears, using the AudioNotch tuner. Then today, instead of using my JBL over the ear headphones (JBL ANC E-series), I plugged the Bose QC20 in. Whilst I couldn't turn the A/C in the hotel room off, I switched on the ANR of the Bose headphones.

      Oh wow!

      When playing around 15-16 kHz, I found that there is a "difference tone" in that area! I narrowed it down to 16 kHz. So at exactly 16 kHz, the difference tone goes away, but from a low frequency, it increases as I tune away from 16 kHz.

      This indicates to me that in order for the noise cancelling to work, the system has to generate a 16 kHz tone!

      So here I am, using ANR to reduce the noise, and as a trade-off, I have a 16 kHz tone in my ears! No wonder it becomes worse.

      I haven't been able to find further about this, searching online, so I hope the users of this fine community can help me shed some light.

      If you have Bose QC20 in ear headphones, and want to test it yourself on a MacBook (maybe same on a PC?), search for AudioNotch Tuner, then plug in your headphones to your audio port (I guess some newer MacBooks don't have that 3.5mm audio output port?). Play around 16 kHz and you see what I mean ......

      I am going to get a new pair of custom molded earplugs ASAP, and have suddenly realised that ANR technology might worsen tinnitus, rather than help it.
       
      • Informative Informative x 1
    2. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      DITB

      DITB Member

      Location:
      Hong Kong
      Tinnitus Since:
      2018 (unsure)
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Not sure. I have started to suspect ANR technology ..
      One further experiment I just did after posting that above:

      Bose Noise cancelling headphones in ears, noise cancelling ON. Not connected to any source, just headphones plus noise cancelling.

      JBL ANR E-series on ear headphones ON TOP OF the Bose. Switched OFF so no ANR in the JBLs, but connected via the 3.5mm cable into the MacBook.

      Doing this experiment, I don't get the "difference tone" around 16 kHz.

      So the Bose QC20 will only react to 16 kHz when it's fed into it's audio jack - NOT when 16 kHz is coming from outside. I can hear the 16 kHz, or just around it, when I turn the volume sufficiently up.
       
    3. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      In the US the FAA recognize many pilots have tinnitus and it's not a big deal to them. As long as you can hear a whisper at 25 feet... you are good for a first class medical.

      ICAO may be different, but Our test is very simple. Just like radiation exposure, it is “an acceptable risk” according to the FAA.

      I just bought some DC 100x to try out and I wonder about the ANR....maybe I’ll just use the only passive headsets for 12 hours...I’ll be the only one though....ugh.

      Good Luck
       
      • Like Like x 1
    4. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      DITB

      DITB Member

      Location:
      Hong Kong
      Tinnitus Since:
      2018 (unsure)
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Not sure. I have started to suspect ANR technology ..
      My main point here is: There is a chance that although ANR cancels noise at some frequencies, with great success, there also seems to be some indication that it also gives tinnitus at higher frequencies. If tinnitus is a side effect of using ANR, then it really needs to be exposed.

      I have now read a lot of posts on various forums and blogs, where people write they got tinnitus AFTER they started to use ANR equipment. In particular from Bose SleepBuds, but also from other Bose equipment. I didn't look for other manufacturers, but I presume there is a chance they might be affected as well.

      Until I know more, my Bose QC20 will go to the shelf, and I will use foam earplugs. And getting custom molded earplugs (again)
       
    5. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      Your airline provides ANR ship headsets in the airplane? Lmao... way different than US airlines... lucky if there are old DC passive headsets.

      I couldn’t hear 16 kHz if I wanted to. What purpose do you think is the 16 kHz tone since the manufacturers state they only cancel a limited range of noise anyway usually up to 3 kHz?

      I’m really curious about this because I’ll be going over the ear now thanks to my new tinnitus... whether it is ANR or passive is the question.

      Thanks.
       
    6. Juan

      Juan Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      08/2014
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Several causes
      Why dont you just use earmuffs? Peltor or some other brand? And there is always a co-pilot that you can trust to listen to the radio... or take turns listening...

      These days airlines fly a lot, and rosters got a lot worse too, and some companies seem to instruct their pilots to descend quite fast, with high rates of descent, which is not good for ears either... some airlines seem to be losing it.

      And how do you cope with noise when you board on the plane and leave? Do you use earplugs, earmuffs...?

      Last year I was in Budapest airport and there are airlines (Ryanair for sure and I think also Wizz Air and some other low cost) that are making passengers board on foot, pretty much like a long walk from the terminal plus a good 30 minutes standing around all the traffic that is parking, taxiing etc, putting up with the same noise as handling personnel and, of course, passengers are not informed beforehand that they will have to follow this procedure, and they are not supplied with hearing protection either… I was actually wondering if this is legal, which I doubt...
       
      • Agree Agree x 1
    7. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      lol, I appreciate the advice, but you really have no idea how this all works. Not being condescending... so no offense. Peltor used to make great aviation headsets but they got out of aviation in 2016.

      When you have a license on the line to follow every ATC instruction perfectly, you can’t rely on someone else. Plus we have two up there to catch the mistakes of the other one.

      Aviation headsets ARE pretty much muffs if they are over the ear. The problem is international flights are 12-14 hours... so is someone going to have a screaming headache with the head clamp for 14 hours?

      No airlines instruct their pilots to descend fast... what you notice is different aircraft have better pressurization systems than others depending on age, model, etc.

      As we know with tinnitus, you must always have some foam earplugs in your back pocket.
       
    8. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      Have you tried wearing earplugs under your headsets? I did that all the time when in the prop planes, and maybe this would reduce the 16kHz sound too?
       
    9. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      Just found this...

      “10 years ago when I was seeing an audiologist and ENT regularly to deal with tinnitus i did my own research. At that time the medical professionals I spoke with weren't convinced that ANR was beneficial for hearing protection. To my knowledge nothing has changed but it's been a year or two since I've had any discussions about it with those professionals. Here are a couple of articles that my audiologist sent me. In her opinion passive still rules. Adding ANR may improve audio quality and comfort but not protection. The headsets that have ports in the cups (Bose) to allow noise in (to excite their ANR) are the worst at passive protection. As you've noted, the ANR only deals with low frequencies so the open holes are letting high frequency noise in unabated. The thing that drove me to ask about ANR was that I noticed the ringing in my ears was worse after flights with ANR headsets. That was counter-intuitive. All that said, I still use a Gallet helmet with mil spec ANR in Cubs and Lightspeed Zulu 2s in the Cessna. Previous to that I used Sennheisers and DC ANR sets, which were also good at passive attenuation. The trend towards smaller and lighter isn't necessarily healthy."

      These articles aren't new but they're good reading.

      http://aearo.com/pdf/hearingcons/anr.pdf

      http://www.caohc.org/updatearticles/fall03.pdf
       
    10. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      DITB

      DITB Member

      Location:
      Hong Kong
      Tinnitus Since:
      2018 (unsure)
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Not sure. I have started to suspect ANR technology ..
      Thank you for your feedback.

      If it only was as simple as to "wear a passive headset".

      First of all, the local aviation authority requires that we only use the one headset that "they approve with the airplane". Yes, they are stupid with that (and many other things). So we are not allowed to use a proper aviation approved headset (apart from the Sennheisers in the aircraft). Boeing 747-8F has been measured to 81dB in the flight deck (!). A330 is less than 70dB and bear in mind that for each 10dB, it's 10 TIMES louder.

      We are using foam earplugs which have no approval whatsoever but no-one seem to mind. The issue is then that we have to turn the radios up more, and with loud noise and loud radios, we have to speak quite loud to even communicate on the flight deck. Some times we agree to simply keep the headsets on, but on long flights, this is not sustainable. Again, these Sennheisers are ANR and there is no switch to turn the ANR on and off on this model.

      For now, I will revert to foam earplugs, and soon enough get a new pair of those custom fit earplugs that I have otherwise used for a decade (but not the latest year). Elacin, Phonak ... there are several of these.

      For now, I am done using ANR until research is made on whether it causes tinnitus or not.
       
    11. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      DITB

      DITB Member

      Location:
      Hong Kong
      Tinnitus Since:
      2018 (unsure)
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Not sure. I have started to suspect ANR technology ..
      It's a noisy flight deck, and we still have to be able to hear both ATC and our colleague(s).

      It would be awesome with something like bluetooth wireless headsets, in-ear and custom fit. No ANR, just blocking it. If we could all wear these, no cables and even be able to keep wearing them when leaving the flight deck - that would be the best solution. But it would require everyone to wear them (if we used intercom to hear each other, that was the whole point). The 747-8 doesn't have voice activated intercom - you have to switch it on or off as needed ...
       
    12. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      The airbus intercoms are a hotmic... don’t be a heavy breather!

      I’m surprised you are so regulated as far which headset you can use. The company ship headsets are junk, and just the minimum. We can buy exactly what we want, and wear any combination of earplugs too... but this is where I have been lazy for a while since the larger jets are more quiet... and my tinnitus had gone away until my recent MRI.

      I’m not a fan of Bose, but I’m trying to decide between the DC 100x and the DC Pro X... the 100x may give me a headache and the Pro x doesn’t give any passive.

      I’m thinking the best would be a double or triple flange earplugs with a flat response filter for the passive wearing with ANR for the high frequency stuff. Unfortunately my tinnitus is bad enough that even with a 10 dB filter the ringing is very loud.
       
    13. all to gain
      No Mood

      all to gain Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      -
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      -
      It probably is legal, but still completely criminal in my book. And the passengers don't know any better and just take it all in as part of the trip.
       
    14. JohnAdams
      Festive

      JohnAdams Member Benefactor Hall of Fame

      Location:
      Vatican
      Tinnitus Since:
      May 1st 2018
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Aspirin Toxicity/Possibly Noise
      There is a software lag that can amplify HF sounds instead of cancelling them. The 1 + (-1) = 0 thing only works if the waves are perfectly 180 phase shifted.
       
    15. Juan

      Juan Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      08/2014
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Several causes
      So you think earplugs are better for flying than earmuffs? I thought only fighter pilots would use earplugs because of the very loud noise fighters make.

      Also, I was quite surprised to see in the original poster statement that it is possible to pass a pilot's medical with hearing loss of 50 dB at 3 kHz, which seems a lot of hearing loss... is that true?
       
    16. Juan

      Juan Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      08/2014
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Several causes
      I have measured, as a passenger, 96 to 102 dB inside a B738... which is pretty bad.

      80 dB does not seem so noisy for a plane, it is less noisy than a busy restaurant...
       
    17. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      It depends where you are oftentimes... the front of a 737 would be louder since the front is an old design. If you are over the wing by the engines, it would be louder.

      That’s true, many former military pilots have tinnitus since the engines were right next to the cockpit.

      International standards are different than US standards for hearing, but the bottom line is... can you hear well enough to do your job. Unfortunately the speakers in the cockpit get quite loud. Pilots get complacent with hearing just like everyone else, so even though an airplane seems “not too bad,” the constant noise can do damage over time.

      There can be mind boggling feedback over the radios too which can jolt the ears. I’m suddenly thinking maybe earplugs for the passive protection and the ANR in a lighter headset since having a 12 oz. full headset on your head for 8 hours isn’t fun.

      I have “musicians” flat response earplugs that I use at the movies now... (2 months ago foamies were fine, but now they don’t allow enough dialogue through). I will probably use the same ear plugs flying now... tinnitus sucks.

      Maybe there will be a cure in another f#cking 20 years... ugh.
       
      • Like Like x 1
    18. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      DITB

      DITB Member

      Location:
      Hong Kong
      Tinnitus Since:
      2018 (unsure)
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Not sure. I have started to suspect ANR technology ..
      Equipment and measurement standards vary. It might not be possible to compare them directly, but for sure, the Boeing 747-8 flight deck is by far one of the noisiest amongst larger jets. It's not just the wind noise, it's also various fans that also add to it. Especially when we fly at lower flight levels (when we are heavy with freight and fuel), where the indicated air speed is higher and air is denser, then the sound level is louder. The loudest is probably passing 10,000 feet towards ~26,000 feet, and we are very heavy: The optimum speed is initially often around 350 knots indicated => lots of noise.
       
    19. Juan

      Juan Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      08/2014
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Several causes
      I understand, that's a lot of speed for initial climb.

      I measured sound levels just with my phone app, but suffering from hyperacusis I can tell the differences in sound levels and decibels, and I have flown in several 738 (same plane, same airline) and there are great differences from flying in summer, with a plane full of passengers, maybe that specific aircraft too... and from flying in winter, another route, so a different aircraft of the same model. One of them was around 100 dB on the back seat that are behind the engines. And the other one was maybe 85 dB, sitting on the first seats located before the engines... maybe my sound meter over estimates... it is the cellphone app, but there are big differences from one particular plane to another.
       
    20. MRItechssuck
      Disappointed

      MRItechssuck Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Mild 2000-2018 sev 10/17/2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud noise, MRI
      Every airplane is different... age, the number of takeoffs and landings, etc...
       
    21. Guppy

      Guppy Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2018
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Tinnitus (microsuction), Hearing loss (occupational)
      DITB,

      I just got here and have yet to post my full story in the intros. But I’m a pilot flying the 737 series. I have always used foams pushed in below a Telex 750. I *thought* that had been doing the trick, taking the edge off the trebles and muting and fatiguing crackle from the radios and interphone. Even though they weren’t always completely inserted in the “correct” way, they were comfortable for long periods and I figured I was at least cutting 10 to 15db or so from a 75 to 80db environment and attacking the “damaging” high frequencies.

      I now believe that all this time I have been badly mistaken. I just had a hearing test with a nasty steep drop off from 4000 hz on up (slightly worse in the right ear, but more or less symmetric) and I can’t hear anything above 8000 hz at any normal volume. At 49 I’m obviously way below where I should be with my hearing.

      Anyway, more on the tinnitus aspect later, because there is that too, but I’ve got to do something ASAP so I’m ordering a David Clark Pro X-2 and I’ll see how that goes. It will cut out the low noise and that’s what I believe hurt me all this time....the foams just weren’t enough for the lows and the lows in the spectrum did the damage. DC claims a noise cancelling range from 20hz to 1ooohz with peak attenuation of 30db at 150hz.

      Any more insights for solutions on your end?
       

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