Can Active Noise-Cancelling (ANC) Headphones Have Permanently Worsened My Pre-Existing Tinnitus?

Discussion in 'Support' started by Syb, Jan 1, 2021.

    1. Syb
      Pensive

      Syb Member

      Location:
      Montreal
      Tinnitus Since:
      1990, 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Hearing loss & possibly a neck / C spine issue?
      Hey... I lurk here from time to time but decided to create an account because I'm losing my mind. I need to talk with someone who's had a similar experience, if possible.

      I've had moderate tinnitus in both ears for a little over 5 years I'd say — or anyway, that's when I became fully aware of it. I've learned to live with it and hardly ever notice it anymore unless I'm really trying to hear it (it's about a 3/10 in terms of how bothersome I find it). Unfortunately I do not know the cause. I remember that taking strong decongestants for sinus / ear problems is what initially made me aware of it. I sometimes have random little flare-ups but they usually last a few hours only, or maybe a day at worst, most of the time only in one ear at a time. Again, very manageable.

      A few days ago, I purchased some Sony XM3 headphones with active noise-cancelling. They are the first over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones I ever owned. (I've always owned earbuds / in-ear headphones, and have never had any issues with them whatsoever).

      At first I really enjoyed them. I liked how the ANC allowed me to block out outside noises so I could lower my volume below 50% without hearing anything else. They didn't make me feel like the tinnitus was louder or anything. That is, for the three first days.

      Then two days ago, I listened to some piano (again, not loud) for two or three hours, with the ANC turned on. I was also adjusting the equalizer in the process. A few hours after listening to music, I realized that my jaw felt a little sore (probably from the clamping — they're brand new and still a little tight) and more importantly, that the tinnitus had flared up to the point that it really bothered me. I immediately stopped using the headphones and haven't used them since.

      It has been almost 48 hours now, and the tinnitus is just as loud and really high-pitched. Honestly, I'm starting to freak out — my flare-ups usually don't last this long.

      I tried looking it up on Google, but I'm getting very contradictory answers. Some people say the ANC can't cause or exacerbate tinnitus, others say it made theirs rage.

      I don't know whether it was the ANC, the jaw pressure (I have slight TMJ), the fact that I messed with the equalizer for a while... or even the fact that I took some decongestants (prescribed by my ENT for allergies), but whatever it was, the tinnitus won't calm down.

      I don't know who to ask and discuss this with, and I'm scared it won't go back to its usual level. Surely listening to music with ANC on at a very reasonable volume for 2-3 hours can't possibly have caused permanent damage...?

      I'm so confused. And honestly terrified — I haven't been able to eat or sleep much and it made me sick this morning. While I am prone to anxiety, I haven't felt this panicked in a very long time and I'm having a hard time distracting myself because all I hear is the ringing. Obviously, being this anxious doesn't help with the tinnitus at all. I took 20mg of Benadryl last night to sleep and it did make the tinnitus more quiet... for a few hours.

      I wish I could go to a doctor or ENT, but it's January 1, everything is closed, plus my city is in lockdown. I have a phone appointment with a doctor tomorrow, but my ENT clinic is closed until next week at best.

      Has anyone with ANC headphones experienced something similar, and did the tinnitus calm down after a while? I need a little hope here, anything to calm down, really...

      Sorry for the very long post. Any feedback or advice would be greatly appreciated, please.

      Thanks.
       
      • Hug Hug x 1
    2. billie48
      Sunshine

      billie48 Member Benefactor Ambassador Hall of Fame

      Location:
      Canada
      Tinnitus Since:
      03/2009
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      not sure
      Welcome to the forum.

      If you don't find enough response with ANC headphone, perhaps do a search "noise cancelling headphone" and you will find lots of prior discussions on that. Anyways, you probably have some acoustic trauma issue.

      Have you gotten some Prednisone for that when you first experienced this? The sooner the better. There is no guarantee that steroids will always help but this is often recommended by members here for new acoustic trauma.

      Usually this will take some time as the ears get unstable. Try to be positive and patient with it to prevent getting too stressful and anxious, which are bad for tinnitus. Do something relaxing or take some calming natural supplements to help. If it is still bothering you, you can try masking the tinnitus. There are many apps for this. Try to use a Bluetooth speaker instead of headphone as the latter is known to cause tinnitus.

      Our notable member @Michael Leigh often warns members about the danger of using headphones. Take care. God bless.
       
    3. Mo21
      Cheerful

      Mo21 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      8
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      ?
      Ok so I am seeing a number of posts on this topic. Some for. Some against. Some swear by them. Some say they are the devil's work.

      I would like to find any scientific factual conclusions that either prove or disprove that Noise Cancelling Headphones aggravate tinnitus. Now, given that there seems little 'scientific conclusions' on tinnitus anyway, my hope to find one on noise-cancelling headphone use is probably a pipe dream.

      But for now, I would like to get a handle on how many out there have a view on their use and how they have affected them.

      So, how many think noise-cancelling headphones have made their tinnitus worse?

      To be clear, this is not to say listening to Metallica at eye popping levels has made your ears ring. This is how using noise-cancelling headphones, playing at moderate levels, over a period of time, has changed your tinnitus or even caused it.

      And I know there are better qualified people out there who understand the condition better than me. Plus there are different types of tinnitus and each of us experience it differently. I also know most of the evidence is anecdotal. And all of this has sufficiently clouded the question to the point where we seem to have stopped asking it. But let's see hat happens. Your response would be appreciated.
       
    4. ajc

      ajc Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      11/2002; spike 2009; worse 2017-18
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Loud music - noise damage
      You do realize millions of people have tinnitus, use headphones, or noise-cancelling headphones, and they never get worse or have the need to venture to online forums.

      You are going to get extremely biased anecdotal reports here.

      Basic common sense dictates that all kinds of headphones, including noise-cancelling ones, are safe to use as long as you don't listen at too loud volumes.
       
      • Agree Agree x 1
    5. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Syb
      Pensive

      Syb Member

      Location:
      Montreal
      Tinnitus Since:
      1990, 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Hearing loss & possibly a neck / C spine issue?
      I've had low to moderate tinnitus for 5 years now. It sucks but I was used to this level since it was somewhat muted. It didn't really bother me anymore.

      But I've been having a very loud and scary spike that has been lasting for 4 days now, which is the longest it has ever lasted for me.

      It started after using ANC headphones for a few hours which I immediately discarded. (I posted about it a few days ago.)

      I'm trying to mask it but... just having to go through this whole process again like when it first started is making me lose my mind. I can't find enjoyment in anything at all, the ringing is all I hear.

      I'm so anxious, I'm in denial, I'm terrified it won't go away and go back to its normal volume and pitch. I'm constantly on the verge of a panic attack, I cry a lot. I haven't had anything to eat in three days, I just feel so sick and depressed.

      I know I'm overreacting... but even knowing this I can't seem to calm down. The doctor prescribed .5mg Clonazepam up to twice a day if needed but I took it 3 different times and I don't feel much more relaxed until maybe 4 hours later and it doesn't really last or mute the tinnitus all that much.

      I'm waiting for clinics to open tomorrow to make a few calls, but even then I'm not very optimistic. The ENT has never done anything for me. "Ear looks normal. It's too bad but it happens. You'll have to deal with it."

      Until then I need something to calm down, please. I read the panic guide here two times and it sort of helped but it isn't enough. My mind just keeps spiralling down.

      My husband has been trying to support me the best he can as he also has had moderate tinnitus for years, so he understands the struggle. But he is also very calm and in control of his emotions (as opposed to me) so he can't really relate to my complete state of panic of the past 4 days. I don't blame him at all and he gives fantastic hugs but I still feel so isolated and misunderstood.

      If anyone has... I don't know, guides, videos, anything to help me calm down and maybe give me a little hope before I lose my mind completely. Please.

      Thank you.
       
      • Hug Hug x 1
    6. annV
      Fine

      annV Member Benefactor

      Tinnitus Since:
      2005
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      unknown - possibly hereditary
      Four days of spiked tinnitus is a short time. It will likely resolve for you soon. Hugs.
       
      • Hug Hug x 1
    7. Michael Leigh

      Michael Leigh Member Benefactor Hall of Fame

      Location:
      Brighton, UK
      Tinnitus Since:
      April /1996
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Noise induced
      I understand your reasons for wanting to use headphones but you are playing with fire if you continue to use them even at low volume. Some people with tinnitus can use headphones without any problems but the the risk of it getting worse is always there, especially when the tinnitus is noise induced. The spike you have been experiencing is a warning so my advice is to be careful. I doubt you will find any scientific evidence whether using headphones, NC types, earbuds, headset, will make tinnitus worse. However, peruse some of the many posts in this forum where people have regretted retuning to use them as the tinnitus increased to a new permanent level so the choice is yours. Remember, if your tinnitus gets worse it is unlikely to reduce to its previous baseline level and you will have to endure the suffering all by yourself. Some people will tell you using headphones is fine as long as the volume is kept low. If your tinnitus increases they will not be able to help you!

      You might find the post in the link below helpful.
      I wish you well.

      Michael

      Will My Tinnitus Get Worse? | Tinnitus Talk Support Forum
       
    8. Jrblovsky

      Jrblovsky Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      Christmas 2019
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      NOISE/Menieres Who knows
      I blasted myself with SleepPhones for four or five seconds back in September which made my tinnitus substantially worse. Now granted this was not intended and I don't use headphones for anything besides sleep. The new tone that started has not gone away yet.
       
    9. convolution

      convolution Member Podcast Patron Benefactor

      Location:
      Sweden - Italy
      Tinnitus Since:
      26/11/2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      White Noise from Headphones (likely)
      Hey @Syb, did the spike subside? I hope so, let us know.
       
    10. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Syb
      Pensive

      Syb Member

      Location:
      Montreal
      Tinnitus Since:
      1990, 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Hearing loss & possibly a neck / C spine issue?
      So, long update...

      The 'spike' isn't gone but it's quieter and not as intrusive.

      (I will refer to it as a spike, but truthfully, it really looks like it's a different tinnitus than the one I've had for the past few years — it 'behaves' differently, varies in volume, pitch... it even has different 'sound effects'. My previous tinnitus has always sounded exactly the same, same volume 99% of the time. And I mean, it's still there in the background — the other tinnitus is sort of... stacked on top of the previous one. I don't know if that makes sense. But since I originally thought it was a spike, I will continue calling it that.)

      A few days after the spike started, I realized that it always worsened considerably at dinner time (I often skip breakfast and hardly have anything for lunch — I know, bad habit, haha.) And I mean, it literally spikes a few minutes after I start eating, every single day. Initially I thought it was just a coincidence, or that maybe it was just fatigue? But depending on what I chew on (steak VS. salad, for example), the spike gets louder.

      I also realized that depending on which side I sleep (I'm a side sleeper), it sometimes made the tinnitus on that side a little louder during the night... even though, most of the time, mornings are when the tinnitus is the most quiet for me.

      Last but not least, I realized that muscle relaxants and NSAIDs provided some relief and made it quieter. (Plus, the muscle relaxants knocked me out and helped me sleep.)

      Taking all these factors into consideration, I started to suspect the spike was jaw related. After all, my jaw was sore the day the spike started. Also, an ENT I saw 5 years ago had vaguely mentioned I had a TMJ and that it might've been the cause of my 'first' tinnitus... but besides telling me I'd have to learn to live with it, unfortunately he wasn't very useful. I habituated over time and while I did have some jaw tightness every now and then, I don't think it ever spiked my tinnitus or caused a 2nd one.

      Today I saw an audiologist for the first time. Turns out I have mild hearing loss in both ears, which according to her is probably what caused the original tinnitus, years ago. She said the damage looked like it had been caused a long time ago. (Not sure how she could determine that — I should've asked!)

      In hindsight (I'm 30), I can't remember ever not hearing my original tinnitus — I just thought that's how silence sounded for everyone. I just became more aware of it a few years ago after it had become a bit louder than usual (and it stayed that way). The cause is unknown — all I remember is I got a mild ear infection, took some antibiotics (ear drops), had some residual fluid behind my eardrums and the ENT had me take Claritin-D to try and dry it out. It started the night I took the decongestants. In any case, I'll never know for certain what made the original tinnitus worse, or what even caused it in the first place (although my parents used to listen to music really, really loud when I was a kid, so maybe that's it)... but it honestly doesn't bother me anymore. At all.

      As for the 'spike'. The audiologist was fairly certain it's jaw related — for all the reasons I mentioned above. And also because she had me clench my jaw tightly and it made my tinnitus spike immediately, which according to her is another sign it's probably my TMJ acting up. I'm seeing a new (and well reputed) ENT next month to confirm / get a 2nd opinion, but I think it would make sense.

      As to how it relates to the headphones... Those are my first ever over-ear headphones. And they do clamp pretty tightly against my head, probably because they're brand new. They also press somewhat firmly against the side of my jaw. She recommend I either 'stretch' them on a stack of books or exchange them for in-ear headphones, since I've always used earbuds (with volume at 60% max) and they never caused me any issues.

      As for the ANC, she said there's no evidence it can cause or make tinnitus worse. She herself has tinnitus and uses ANC earphones specifically so that she can listen to music at a lower, safer volume and says it never was a problem. She did say she had a few patients ask if ANC could be the cause of their tinnitus, but in most cases it ended up being something else.

      As for me, she suggests physiotherapy for my TMJ. Gently stretching and massaging my jaw seems to help a little, so I'm hopeful it'll go away over time so long as I'm careful not to exacerbate my TMJ, but also by managing my stress and anxiety levels.

      That's about it for me... for now, anyway.

      I hope this thread / update can help someone in the future. While my issue isn't solved, at least I have some options to explore, and more hope than when I initially made this post.

      Whatever happens, I strongly believe in habituation (I habituated once, I can do it again!) and whether or not I manage to get rid of this 'new' tinnitus completely, I know I'll get used to it and that things will get better.

      Hang in there, everyone. Thanks for reading. And thanks for your replies — I'm sorry I didn't see them sooner, but I appreciate them nevertheless. :)
       
      • Like Like x 2
    11. Freyja95
      Caffeine

      Freyja95 Member

      Location:
      Sweden
      Tinnitus Since:
      01/2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Noise trauma, headphones
      What would make you think of acoustic trauma in this case? It definitely doesn't sound like it, there's no signs of it? He listened to music at below 50% volume, that will not give you an acoustic trauma.
       
    12. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Syb
      Pensive

      Syb Member

      Location:
      Montreal
      Tinnitus Since:
      1990, 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Hearing loss & possibly a neck / C spine issue?
      @Freyja95 indeed, it probably wasn't acoustic trauma — according to my specialists, anyway. And based on some recent observations.

      It turns out my neck / cervical spine might be the real culprit. Some mornings I wake up with no tinnitus, then I stretch or rotate my neck and suddenly it's back, slowly worsening throughput the day depending on my postures, pain / soreness / inflammation. It also changes ears depending on which side I'm sleeping on. That part is really weird.

      I've been doing some neck and jaw stretches for almost 3 weeks now and I'm starting to see a slight improvement in volume — sometimes my right ear has no tinnitus at all for a couple hours.

      I still have long way to go, but yeah — the more we investigate, the more it looks like the headphones only contributed to triggering the tinnitus by adding weight and pressure on my head and jaw. Add that to a lifetime of terrible postures + the fact I already had occipital neuralgia...

      I'm not 100% positive I'll manage to get rid of the tinnitus entirely but at least I've managed to lower it a bit on some days, so it's something...!
       
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