Noise Cancelling Headphones

I haven't been in the forums for a while. First of all I was getting so down about my tinnitus and hyperacusis (as well as the aural fullness, vertigo and hearing loss), and I needed to get my head together while trying to cope with returning to work.

Anyway, we had a long haul holiday booked over Easter and I was dreading the flight. My husband bought me noise cancelling headphones to help reduce the airplane noise to try and limit the hyperacusis - which is like loud tinnitus noises but caused in response to any noise in the environment including my own voice or others speaking. They worked marvellously on the flight and I was able to sleep, for part of the time, and zone out. I also found that they seemed to help with the tinnitus.

Now I'm back to earth, I have tried using the headphones a couple of times to manage some of the noise around me, but I also think they are helping with my tinnitus. I don't know if this makes any sense, as I do not actually have them plugged into any music (as this would upset the hyperacusis) but just have the noise cancelling function turned on.

I know they were expensive, but it may be worth a try. You can try noise cancelling headphones out in the shop usually to see if they make a difference (e.g. John Lewis).

I just thought I'd mention it as I get quite desperate and anything that helps is worth looking into.

Unfortunately I can't wear the headphones at work as I'm teacher and need to be able to hear the children - not to mention the looks and laughs I'd probably get. ;-)
  • Noise canceling headphones are working very nice to reducing all kind of noise but I use noise barrier for reducing noise from my house. It's working very fast in reducing all kind of noise from anywhere my house.

  • Hi Busker,

    Thanks for your post.

    Our in house Audiologist has provided the following information for you:

    It is true that it needs an out of phase signal for noise cancelling. As you indicated the hiss is due to the electronics and not the noise cancelling itself which we didn’t make clear. For most individuals headphones can make the tinnitus sound louder as you are blocking out external sounds and therefore the brain attends to the internal sound instead. However each tinnitus sufferer is different and what works for one may not work as effectively for another. Anecdotally, for some tinnitus suffers wearing headphones or blocking their ears helps reduce their tinnitus. But this is rare, and why it is the case for them and not for others we don’t know. There is also objective tinnitus and this is very rare and yes it can be heard by others, this is of vascular or a middle ear muscle origin.
    The initial origin of some forms of tinnitus is more than likely based in the early part of the auditory pathway (and this may remain so initially, for the individual with tinnitus ). However, the central-auditory-system (higher up the auditory pathway- past the cochlear and into the central auditory cortex) is possibly also implicated in tinnitus development. There is increasing evidence, that tinnitus is a consequence of neuroplastic alterations in the central auditory pathway. These alterations are assumed to result from a disturbed sensory input (cochlear and early auditory pathway), caused by hearing loss or possibly other triggers. Hearing loss for example possibly then causes a homeostatic response of neurons in the central auditory system, and therefore cause tinnitus.
    Noise cancelling headphones are the best protection/ prevention against hearing loss and tinnitus as there is research to show that the increased use of personal music players, is causing increased hearing loss especially amongst younger adults; as they are often listening to music through their headphones too loud and for extended periods of time. Noise cancelling headphones because they reduce the impact of background noise on the music, means that the wearer is less likely to listen to music at levels that may damage their hearing, and in turn cause tinnitus

    In regards to those with tinnitus and hyperacusis as we wrote wearing the headphones in situations where a spike in tinnitus or hyperacusis is likely to occur, may help reduce the impact of the event tinnitus and hyperacusis levels. Plus for some there is also the placebo benefit effect of knowing that they have this device with them makes them feel more in control of their tinnitus. Being able to control the immediate environment enables stress levels to remain lower and this will help in the long term management of their tinnitus.

    Best wishes


  • We are planning a flight next year ...and I'm already stressing bout it .
    Husband is very supportive .
    Wouldn't ear defenders be just as good as noise cancelling headohones?
    Or are the NC ' more sophisticated than the defenders

  • I suffer with tinnitus and hyperacusis and use noise cancelling headphones sometimes to reduce background noise (eg at work when I'm trying to listen to audio from my computer) but these headphones are only designed to reduce external noise. They have to detect noise in order to compensate for it by generating a noise in opposite phase.

    If these headphones can actually reduce the level of tinnitus in some people, this implies that the headphones are picking up the tinnitus and correcting for it, which imeans that an audible sound is being generated by the ear. I thought all such noises were generated in either the brain or inner ear and weren't real sounds that could be heard externally.

    If anything, my tinnitus is slightly louder when using these headphones because isn't being masked by external background noise. This effect is only temporary, however, and isn't a problem. The white noise or hiss described by some users is an artefact of the electronics in the headphones and isn't an intentional feature, but as an on-and-off WNG user myself I know that white noise can be beneficial for both tinnitus and hyperacusis.

    I'd be interested to hear an audiologist's opinion on how these headphones could reduce tinnitus.
  • Hi masquerade

    Thank you for your post.

    We have consulted with our in house audiologists for our response, please see below:

    As with many health issues what works for some does not work for others. For many sufferers of tinnitus, blocking both their ears increases their tinnitus and this can include the use of ear plugs and headphones. For others it improves their tinnitus. As suggested on the forum the improvement in tinnitus with noise cancelling headphones may be due to the white noise it elicits; as for many tinnitus sufferers the use of white noise generators (WNG) provides relief from their tinnitus and in the long term can help you manage your tinnitus. The use of these WNG’s is usually in both ears regardless of whether the ear is in one ear both as we are trying to teach the brain to turn down the central auditory gain, so it needs information from both sides.

    The use of noise cancelling headphones or ear protection for flying and vacuuming cleaning can be incredibly helpful for individuals with tinnitus and hyperacusis and can help prevent spikes in both. We would always recommend that you only wear them for noises that would be considered loud, not take to wearing them all the time. Wearing them too much can increase sensitivity and make the process of managing your tinnitus more difficult.

    This is where a device like a WNG comes in as you can wear them all day, with the level set just underneath the tinnitus. By doing this your brain eventually learns to focus on the white noise and not the tinnitus. Moreover it means that there is another sound for your ear to listen to so that should an unexpected noise occur, there won’t be such a big difference between the changes in the background noise levels for your ear to process. You can do this with noise cancelling headphones by having the music level just underneath your tinnitus when wearing them and it may do something similar to the WNG particularly if they are the bud types, and this sounds like what some of the forum members are doing

    All you can do is try and see what works for you. Whether using it in one ear works or whether using it in both is more helpful. We would suggest that you also try and get in touch with a local service (NHS or private) that provides tinnitus counselling. They can help you with your tinnitus and tolerance issues , also show you or give you information on all the different devices out there that may be of help to you and lastly if there are any support groups local to you

    You may wish to read our tinnitus and hyperacusis factsheets for you to explore if there are any other treatments and therapies you would like to explore.

    Please keep us updated with your progress.

    Best wishes,