Very Light Tinnitus Case — Are Noise-Cancelling Headphones Still a No-Go?

Discussion in 'Support' started by Peter376, Jan 16, 2023.

    1. Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      Hi all,

      I am quite new to this forum but I’ve read a lot of threads and I’ve seen people warn others that using Active Noise-Cancelling (ANC) headphones can be harmful to people with tinnitus. I apologise if these questions have been asked before.

      The question is: are ANC headphones known to actually cause tinnitus (or worsen very mild tinnitus)? I have used the Apple AirPods Pro Max for 6 weeks daily and I haven’t noticed anything yet. My reasoning was that in crowded areas, by using ANC I could keep the volume low and protect my ears. When reading ANC can cause tinnitus, I was quite surprised.

      I have a very mild case of tinnitus. It’s a continuous tone in the 12-13 kHz frequency range (I used the Szynalski online tone generator). I’m 53 and I can’t hear anything that’s over 14 kHz. The tone I hear is not loud and, when I concentrate for work, I’m not aware of it. For the last year or so I notice that I have grown sensitive to noises that my environment (wife and teenage children) call normal, such as kitchen noise (plates going in/out dishwasher, glasses hitting tables, etc) or a loud TV. Our new dog (dachshund) barking is way more than my unprotected ears can handle. I tend to wear foam earplugs more often these days.

      Since I hear this tone (6 years ago), I have restrained myself from listening to even medium loud music and avoided headphones. But at a cost, because music enriches my life.

      I have no recollection of any loud events that could have started this tone, although I have been to concerts unprotected when I was a teenager, but after those occasions a solid 25 years have gone by without hearing this tone.

      I am a music lover but for the last 15 years at least I have been very aware of the ear damage risks, even though I didn’t have any issues at the time. During those 15 years I have always taken protection such as earmuffs or earplugs. I have been to around 4 concerts during this time, every time with protection.

      I do notice that when it’s quiet (I hear my tone) and I start listening to music through headphones, the tone gets more noticeable instantly, then when I put the headphones away, it always gets back to the base level, sooner or later.

      When I’m in the shower or when I make sudden bows, my tone sometimes transforms into a cricket (animal) sound for about 10-15 seconds, then the crickets stop chirping and I get my base tone back.

      Well that’s about it. I hope someone can share any relevant information regarding this topic.

      Peter
       
    2. Jammer

      Jammer Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2004
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Acoustic trauma
      From my experience, I purchased top of the line noise-canceling headphones to drown out office noise. I wore them for 2 days at the office; they worked great to reduce that office background noise, but I realized they exacerbated my tinnitus. If I were you, I wouldn't listen to headphones or purchase noise-canceling headphones - just not worth it.
       
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    3. TLion

      TLion Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2006
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      stress/loud concert
      So you do hear your tinnitus in the shower? Seems pretty loud to me?
       
    4. Benjaminbb

      Benjaminbb Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      Nov 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Likely long term noise exposure, combined w pandemic stress
      Were you playing music or just utilising noise cancelation?
       
    5. Joe Cuber
      Curious

      Joe Cuber Member Podcast Patron Benefactor

      Location:
      California, USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      03/2022
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Gradual hearing loss + a huge amount of stress
      This sounds like reactive tinnitus to me. A component of my tinnitus is like this. It reacts to external sounds, then settles back down when those external sounds stop.
       
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    6. starlite
      Amazed

      starlite Member

      Location:
      Sweden
      Tinnitus Since:
      2006
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Work
      I just bought Sony noise-canceling headphones and they work well for me.

      I have only tried them for 2 days and the plus is I can listen to white noise at the same time as I use the noise-canceling feature or the other settings.
       
    7. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      No, certainly not. I meant shower room = bathroom. I just mentioned this because it's a place where I tend to move my head around up and down (before and after the actual shower) by drying my feet, collecting towels from the floor etc. Or maybe it's just that that's where I found myself when I heard the crickets. Come to think of it, a bathroom is a confined space with sound reflective walls, maybe that has something to do with it, I don't know.
       
    8. Jammer

      Jammer Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2004
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Acoustic trauma
      Music with noise cancellation.
       
    9. momus

      momus Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      01/1998
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      antibiotics
      Like the OP, I tend to hear sounds at higher volumes than most people. But there is noise, and then there is sound. To me, a waterfall is sound and pleasant, while other noises that are at the same decibel level put me on edge. If I'm on edge, my tinnitus is louder, or at least my awareness of it is more acute.

      It's probably safe to try noise-cancelling headphones for a very short period of time and note how it goes. For myself, completely covering my ears w/ anything is a no no.

      Some headphones are vented, those may be better.
       
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    10. Benjaminbb

      Benjaminbb Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      Nov 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Likely long term noise exposure, combined w pandemic stress
      Yeah ok, it would be the music that is affecting you, not the noise cancelling IMO. So it can still be used to reduce noise only.
       
    11. Jammer

      Jammer Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2004
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Acoustic trauma
      Nope, it was the headphones with noise cancellation. I could listen to music with the noise cancellation off and my tinnitus was unaffected (low volume setting each time).

      You can always buy a pair and give it a go; nothing to lose but a bit of cash and exacerbated tinnitus.
       
    12. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      Thank you for telling me this. I did a hearing test last week and next Monday I'll speak to a doctor to tell me the results.
       
    13. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      Well this really is the key question: as long as trying headphones doesn't affect the tinnitus, it's harmless. But if it does, it feels like there's no going to back to what it was before. That is the scary part.
       
    14. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      This is what I used to think. And I have no evidence to negate it, but when I explained to my 14 y/o kid how ANC works (mirrored anti phase counter waves) and when I also said that some people say their tinnitus got worse after using ANC headphones, she immediately said "but daddy, that makes sense as your ears now get double the noise".

      Explaining the anti phase aspect was a bridge too far for her, but what if the anti phase isn't quite completely anti phase? What if the tech works unreliably and our ears are exposed to more than we notice?

      With ANC on, I did experience a sensation that seemed like some sort of pressure on my ears that seemed odd, especially as my surroundings got so silent.

      I hope this doctor can shed some light on the matter, but I don't think he can actually. Well, we'll see.
       
    15. Benjaminbb

      Benjaminbb Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      Nov 2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Likely long term noise exposure, combined w pandemic stress
      I've used them for 7 years. There's nothing scientific suggesting that could happen specifically from ANC. But doesn't mean there's not some unknown effect.

      Do you have any theory as to what could cause that? Or anything you've read that reinforces that?

      Do you have the same effect with ONLY ANC on and no sound?
       
    16. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      I went to the doctor and his diagnosis is tinnitus + hyperacusis. I told him that:
      • For the last six years I have kept from listening to Hi-Fi sets or headphones because I was afraid to make my tinnitus tone worse/louder.
      • I tend to use foam plugs for the last 6 months to protect my ears in noisy environments. My home qualifies as such with a dachshund's bark and three teenage girls that explore their voices' limits.
      His advice is to:
      • Stop wearing ear protection in normal environments, even in my home. He explained it's like putting someone in a dark room for some time and then suddenly switch on bright light: it will hurt their eyes and it works similarly with ears.
      • Stop overthinking the harsh noise, just expose my ears to the routine of daily life and the hyperacusis will get better.
      • Go back to and enjoy music again, not too loud as he would also advise people with healthy ears
      • He confirmed that my tone can appear stronger when listening to music "as it will draw more attention to my hearing". I already said that, so far, my tone always returns to the base level when I wake up the next day, or even hours or minutes after putting my music away. He said this is to be expected.
      When I brought up the potential risk of using ANC headphones, despite me stating my theory that blocking environmental noise could help me keep the volume down, he thought I was using them to protect my ears in noisy environments, akin to foam plugs. Maybe my initial explanation was inarticulate or he jumped to a conclusion as he may have seen too many cases where people use ANC headphones for ear protection, I don't know.

      After explaining again and more thoroughly, he grasped my theory and immediately dismissed the potential risk of increasing my tinnitus by ANC alone. It's a reasonably sized hospital and he and all of his colleagues had never seen such cases and they certainly didn't have a FAQ or general warning about ANC headphones.

      So... do I take his word for it? The prospect of getting back to enjoying music again makes me want to. Fiercely. However, I am the kind of person that prefers to stay on the safe side everywhere and to overthink things. Things like health, but I also overthink the purchase of a new car, computer or even a tooth brush. My children must be "girls with kaleidoscope eyes" by now. By doing so, I am certain to have avoided many mistakes, but it has cost me a lot of time.

      Anyway, here it is. I am still auditioning some ANC headphones but I haven't pulled the trigger on one yet.
       
    17. Jammer

      Jammer Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2004
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Acoustic trauma
      Here is my experience. I bought a pair, wore them for two days and they exacerbated my tinnitus. Stopped wearing them and tinnitus returned to baseline. Sold them.
       
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    18. Jupiterman

      Jupiterman Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      04/2022
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Sudden loud noise
      You are unlikely to get a definitive answer on this question as it could go either way. It may all help and not only reduce your hyperacusis but settle your reactive tinnitus too.

      However, it may also make your tinnitus louder or even add further tones.

      It is standard treatment for a doctor/ENT/audiologist to tell you to "open up, stop worrying and listen to everyday sounds." Have you ever heard of a case where someone was instructed to be cautious and use earplugs for the time being? No, it is just not in their vocabulary!

      With three female children who can shriek at loud frequencies and a barking dog, likely 90 dB plus, I can see why you have been cautious by wearing earplugs.

      My suggestion would be to take an intermediate step and get custom fitted musician's earplugs made. That way, you can try a 18 dB noise reduction (rather than 28 dB reduction with foam earplugs) and see how that goes.

      This would certainly reduce the risk of your tinnitus getting worse while at the same time still getting decent sound quality.
       
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    19. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      First, I am very glad for you that your tinnitus went down to what it was before you tried the active noise-canceling headphones. Your experience could pose a red flag for my aims to get back to enjoying music again. On the other hand, maybe your ears react differently than mine. I have used my pair of AirPods Max for a month without issues. Just very hard to find a good bearing.
       
    20. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      Peter376

      Peter376 Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      2016
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unknown
      Thanks!
      You are right, it wasn't, at least not initially. But then I suggested I could take the middle road and wear "half" foam earplugs. I use stock ⅔ inch yellow foam earplugs that I also cut in half sometimes when I just want to take the sharp edges off the family sound experience. The doctor then said that could be a "transitional step worth trying" but just that: temporary measure but eventually take away all protection.
      Actually I took the plunge and did as the doctor ordered. Done it for a week and my hyperacusis is a lot better now. Let's see how it goes from here...
      That is a great suggestion, thanks. Are you also saying I could or should listen to headphones or Hi-Fi sets while wearing those?

      Peter
       
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