What are the dangers of noise cancelling headphones?

Written by sebastian malysa
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What are the dangers of noise cancelling headphones?
Although few, the dangers of noise cancelling headphones are serious. (headphones image by Charles Taylor from Fotolia.com)

Noise cancelling headphones are extremely effective at eliminating background sounds such as the hum of an aeroplane engine, the roar of a passing train or the drone of a highway or busy street. Although this helps when listening to music or protecting your ears, wearing noise cancelling headphones during a time when you need to be alert could result in injury or death.

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Types of Noise Canceling Headphones

Understanding the two types of noise cancelling heads phones will help illuminate which is better for your purposes and which is less dangerous for you to use. Passive noise cancelling headphones physically block background sound from reaching your eardrums. Using passive noise cancelling headphones is much like locking yourself in a quiet room to get away from all incoming sound, except the sound comes from your music player or computer. They are extremely effective, blocking out all spiking sound without requiring batteries.

Active noise cancelling headphones are much more sophisticated, requiring a battery to function. With a small microphone on the outside, active noise cancelling headphones sample outside background noise and produce an opposite sound in the actual headphones to cancel out the noise. These headphones are less effective than passive noise cancelling headphones because they produce a hissing sound when cancelling unwanted noise and can only filter out consistent noise, such as the drum of an aeroplane engine. Active noise cancelling headphones allow you to retain communication with people and are lighter and smaller in design.

Dangers of Blocking out Noise

Noise cancelling headphones can be very dangerous if you wear them during a time you need to be alert, such as while you are cycling or jogging. Passive noise cancelling headphones are so effective at blocking all incoming outside noise that you may not be able to hear a warning such as a car horn or the sound of someone following you. Being aware of ambient noise while you're commuting keeps you safe and will allow you to react to an impending danger if necessary. Active noise cancelling headphones, on the other hand, are a little safer since they only block out consistent unwanted noise. Wearing these headphones will allow you to hear a car horn or an audible warning, but still significantly handicaps your reaction time to an audible warning. It is illegal to wear any set of headphones while driving in most states as it's both irresponsible and dangerous.

Health Risks from Misuse

The purpose of noise cancelling headphones is to block out unwanted sound so you can listen to your music at a quieter, less damaging level. However, this is to no avail if you continue to listen to music at a high level for long periods of time everyday. A study published in "European Heart Journal" has shown a significant increase in heart failure amongst people who are exposed to chronic noise. Additionally, constantly listening to loud music, even in noise cancelling headphones, can lead to hearing loss and eardrum damage. It's important to remember to listen to your music at an more appropriate level and in moderation.

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