I had thought of picking up some noise cancelling headphones for about a year when I decided to ask for feedback on Twitter. I learned the Bose QuietComfort 35 were the best noise cancelling headphones out there. But I wasn’t really traveling much, so the $350 price tag seemed unjustified in my case. I suggested them to my sister, who is currently enrolled in an intense coding bootcamp and sometimes has trouble focusing with so much noise around her. A few days later my brother surprised my sister and I with two pairs of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones. At first the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones were amazing: Clear sound, no noise. Then I started to experience some ear pain and other discomforts that kept getting worse.
It all started the first time I used the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones. After wearing them for a couple of hours, I started to experience sinus pressure, ear discomfort, and pain between my right ear and jaw. I figured it was a symptom of using them for too long and that I would get used to it. When I activated the noise cancelling button, things got worse. The ear pain got more severe and so did the pain close to my jaw. I kept wearing them, thinking this would pass after a few days.
Then my sister, who initially praised her Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones, told me she was experiencing really bad headaches and dizziness. This was after I noticed her being unusually aggravated. She later told me it was the headaches and disorientation from wearing her headphones that put her in a bad mood. We both kept wearing them, thinking it would get better but it only seemed to get worse. In fact, wearing the BoseQuiet Comfort 35 headphones for a while started to make me feel disoriented as well. This was an expected reaction to cancelling out low-frequency sounds. But I decided to Google the problem to see whether this was in fact normal. It turns out lots of people experience headaches, ear pain, dizziness, and disorientation from wearing noise cancelling headphones.
There were tons of reddit threads about noise cancelling headphones causing pain. There was even a specific thread about how Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones were causing headaches. People on various forums were complaining about a variety of issues resulting from long-term noise cancelling headphone use. Several people on this Amazon thread reported that things got so bad, they developed ear infections. But the complaints weren’t restricted to forum chatter. A 2008 TechRadar article titled “Do noise cancelling headphones make you sick?” provides insight about what may be responsible for the various problems users of noise cancelling headphones report having:
“The WSJ also cites Sarah Stackpole, a New York ear, nose and throat doctor, who ‘speculates that the sound waves that cancel each other out may still transmit enough very low frequency vibrations to stimulate the balance receptors that are connected to the hearing hair cells in the inner ear… The disequilibrium that some people may feel from this is made worse because the vibrations falsely signal that the head is moving, but the eyes report that the head is stationary. Those mixed signals make the headphone wearer feel dizzy.”
Most of this discomfort doesn’t seem to wear off over time. The author of this 2016 Business Insider article titled “There’s a very good reason not to buy the best noise canceling headphones in the world” supports this:
“The active NC technology creates an odd ear-pressure sensation that feels weird and a bit uncomfortable after extended use, making the experience far less natural than that with a standard set…Don’t get me wrong: I love my QC25s, even if I have to take them off every couple hours to ward off pressure headaches.”
Prior to my experience with the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones, I had never heard anything about noise cancelling headphones causing pain. Every frequent traveler I know swears by them and I’ve read dozens of blog posts praising the miracle of noise cancelling headphones. Which makes me wonder: Does everyone else just put up with the discomfort? Noise exposure doesn’t seem as bad as the searing ear pain that comes from wearing noise cancelling headphones. If there’s this much pressure while wearing them on the ground, how much worse will it get on a plane?
Anyway, I’m hoping Amazon will take my Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones back and issue a full refund. I also hope that anyone out there shopping for noise cancelling headphones is aware of the ear pain, headaches, and dizziness reported by some users.
Have you experienced any discomfort from using noise cancelling headphones? Did the problem persist or go away with long-term use?
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