Do noise cancelling headphones cause vertigo?

Notice: This article contains very little information about vertigo, for more detailed information about vertigo, it’s types, prevention and cure read the book your health and headphones

What is Vertigo?  

Vertigo is a state where the human brain receives false sensory inputs and mistakenly thinks that there’s movement or acceleration when in fact there’s none.This false information causes loss of balance and spatial disorientation. And at the very least it causes some kind of dizziness.

How Noise Cancelling Headphones Really work

Noise cancelling headphones are designed to cancel out surrounding noise received by the ears. They do this by detecting the surrounding noise, then creating an opposite copy of this noise and sending it to the ears. Because one signal is the opposite of the other, the two cancel out, resulting in no noise.

There are limitations with this technology, first because the detection and signal-generating algorithms are somewhat slow to respond. So when noise appears, there’s a certain delay until the system detects and cancels the noise. So in general, this technology works well with slow kinds of noise, but it doesn’t work with abrupt kinds of noise, such as an explosion or a firing gun.

It generally fails to work well with sudden noise, as well with random noise that follows no pattern. Because the system doesn’t have enough time to react, by the time it attempts to react, the problem is already gone, or just fails to spot the pattern because it doesn’t exist.

Also, the algorithms used are based on Fourier analysis theory, which breaks down any kind of noise and seemingly random audio frequencies to a set of discrete frequencies. Most seemingly random sounds are actually made of discrete, non random frequencies.

The algorithm simply determines that a given noise is the sum of fixed, easy to artificially make frequencies. Such as 70% of a 5khz sound, 20% of a 15khz sound and 5% of a 45khz sound. But it’s only an approximation, there will be a 5% of sound which the system cannot reproduce, as it would require much more complex algorithms and incredibly expensive electronic components.

So even if the noise is slow, we can detect and eliminate most of it, but not all of it. This residual noise can make through to the ears and ends up fooling the brain. Noise cancelling headphones work very well in cancelling routine noise. Routine noise is noise such as from the engines of an airliner, or from the engines, and from blades of a rotor, on a helicopter. Because the noise is periodic, hence fully predictable the algorithms detect it very well, and manage to totally eliminate it. Or at least eliminate to a degree where it is no longer is a problem.

However noise cancelling headphones cannot handle fast noise (such as a firing gun), and cannot handle non periodic noise (noise whose characteristics keep on changing fast or indefinitely, without pattern). Because the algorithms simply cannot adapt fast enough, and the residual noise will be significant and will reach your ears.

The technology however, and the concept, have been around for decades now. And because it does have military applications, it is still the subject of multimillion dollar research! The idea is to cancel noise out, and make things quiet. And the theory also applies to radar signal cancelling, to make stealth planes etc.

The research goes on and on. But to this day, the only truly noiseless products you can buy are cars, and headphones.   The point is that noise canceling headphones will keep on getting better in the future. And they will be able at some point to eliminate even totally random, non periodic noise, to the point where it will no longer affect our ears. See how noise cancelling headphones work

How Residual Noise Causes Dizziness and Vertigo

The noise that the headphones cannot cancel makes it through to the ears. And it is perceived by the ears as spatial information, and subsequently by the brain as motion and acceleration information.    Remember that our ears are natural instruments that sense motion, acceleration, position in space, and overall balance. And they are not perfect, but our brain uses these sensory inputs to determine how far we stand from a noise source, such as a moving car.

It also determines if such an object is on the left or on the right, relative where we stand. If the noise is greater on one side, it senses that the moving car is on that side.   The brain also senses much more information, including the phase difference for a noise heard by both ears.

And it also senses the balance of the body using dedicated parts of the ears, which work by gravity, just like a level. But these are sensitive to noise, phase difference of noise between the two ears, and to low sound frequencies.

So when noise cancelling headphones are in use, especially in an environment of non periodic noise, there’s always residual noise. Noise cancellation is not 100%.  This residual noise enters the ears, thereby triggering false signals on those parts of the ears. The brains starts getting signals of low frequencies, signals of phase difference and other signals. And also the balance sensors of the ears are affected too, and send their own signals to the brain.

All this misinformation is received by the brain, and the brain thinks that you are moving, or spinning, or that you are sitting at an angle. Even though you are standing still and upright. It’s all misinformation caused by that residual noise! And the longer your use of the headphones, the worse it may get for that particular session, but it depends on the surrounding noise.

As we mentioned, noise cancelling headphones will perform well in environments where noise is periodic, and hence easier for their algorithms to handle. And they will perform worse in environments where noise is random, and therefore much harder to cancel.

How to Mitigate the Causes of Vertigo

You can lessen the effects of residual noise, and hence the possibility of experiencing dizziness or vertigo, even in a random noise environment. You can do this by adjusting the volume of your headphones to lower levels. And by putting them on your ears, in a misaligned way, so that you only partially hear your music on the one ear. While allowing outside noise to be heard too.   By not totally covering both ears, you allow your brain to maintain a better reference point to the outside noise. And not to be fooled by false signals due to phase difference, as perceived by the two ears.

This makes it more difficult for your brain to misinterpret residual noise, which causes that dizziness feeling and possibly vertigo. Remember that when both ears are totally covered by the headphones, you lose that reference to the outside world, and false signals are easily created.

You should also avoid using noise canceling headphones in your car. There’s no enough data available to conclusively say that you risk getting vertigo while driving. But people who will likely use noise cancelling headphones are truck drivers, heavy vehicle operators, or drivers of any kind of noisy vehicle.

Chances are that the annoying noise will not be periodic, and will follow no pattern. Therefore dizziness and vertigo are likely to occur.  It’s also a matter of quality, as more expensive noise cancelling headphones will definitely work better than cheap ones and have less residual noise. The algorithms are highly complex, and the electronics are expensive. But remember the basics, if the noise to be cancelled, is totally random, then it can never be cancelled 100% no matter what the manufacturer claims.

There are many types of noise-cancelling headphones and you are free to choose whichever suits you.Before you continue reading this article, please have a look at the best noise cancelling headphones with a very low degree of causing vertigo we have come to find out based on users’ experience and hearing safety. check out the reviews please.

HEADPHONES VIDEO REVIEWS

Bose QC 35 (II)

 

 

Sony WH1000 XM2

 

Sennheiser HD1

 

Are you looking for cheap high quality safe headphones? Click the link

That’s the reality with today’s available technology.  If you work in an environment where there is annoying, but periodic noise, then noise canceling headphones should work very well, and there should be no side effects of any kind.

Is Suddenly Induced Vertigo Dangerous?

Yes it can be, especially if you are driving for long hours and at high speed, or if you operate dangerous machinery on the ground. Because vertigo can make you lose your appetite for continuing your work and maintaining attention. And it will result in loss of balance and poor perception of reality.

Most importantly it will result in poor situational awareness. After all this is why alcohol is not allowed when driving or when doing dangerous tasks. And vertigo is equivalent to being heavily drunk. On the medical side, if you are having other health issues, the effects from residual noise may trigger further complications.

If it does happen, it’s a mistake to think that you have loss of appetite and feel dizzy because of the task at hand, and you may think you are just getting tired. But the real cause is the residual noise that irritates these sensitive parts of the ears, and ends up fooling your brain into the wrong conclusions.

The brain is fooled into thinking that you are performing some kind of acrobatics, and attempts to correct for it, trying to figure where you stand.  Especially in the case of driving a noisy vehicle, there’s no easy way of telling what kind of noise you will really encounter.

This depends on many factors. But it’s best to be prepared, and test things in practice. If the noise seems to be non-random, then a good set of noise cancelling headphones may actually do the trick. Just be sure to put it to the test for few hours, and evaluate how you feel after using them.

If you don’t suffer from any other medical conditions, and the noise is truly non-random, then you should not feel any unjustified dizziness or loss of orientation at any given moment.

Conclusion

Noise cancelling headphones do cause vertigo, and it is likely to happen in a random noise environment and when used for a long period of time, due to their inability to achieve perfect cancellation. If however the noise is periodic, such as the noise heard inside a helicopter cockpit, train or a bus then the headphones will work almost perfectly, and vertigo is highly unlikely to be caused.

Other related articles

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  2. Do noise cancelling headphones damage ears and hearing?
  3. Do noise cancelling headphones cause tinnitus?
  4. Are noise cancelling headphones safe or dangerous?
  5. Are noise cancelling headphones worth it?

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