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Noise cancelling headphones on the airplane

The Joys Of Noise-Cancelling Headphones

I love to travel, attend concerts, and live sporting events, but as my hearing loss has worsened, I have become more sensitive to loud sounds. More frequently, the aftermath of a plane flight or visit to a stadium was a long bout of tinnitus and sometimes, even vertigo. It just wasn’t worth it, until I discovered noise-cancelling headphones. I wear them almost everywhere now — on airplanes, at the movies and of course at any concert or loud stadium. Not only do they protect my hearing in the moment, they prevent days of pain and annoyance afterwards.

I first started using noise-cancelling headphones on plane rides. The white noise of an airplane engine can be easy to ignore, but one day I decided to measure it on my iPhone decibel reader. I was amazed to see how loud it actually is! Noise levels ranged from 80 decibels up to 90 decibels on the plane, an unsafe listening level. The rule of thumb is that prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss, and this hearing loss is permanent.

After that flight, I purchased a high quality pair of noise-cancelling headphones and now wear them every time I travel on an airplane. I also don them on long bus and train rides to block out the rhythmic sounds of the world passing by. Rhythmic sounds, even if they are not that loud, can sometimes trigger my tinnitus.

Soon, I started wearing my noise-cancelling headphones to other loud places, like movies and the theater. The noise-cancelling feature on the headphones blocked the background noises making the dialogue more audible. This worked especially well for action movies like Star Wars where there is dramatic music and sometimes gunfire in the background that can mask the actors’ voices. When combined with captions on a CaptiView reader or Sony Access glasses, I can enjoy and understand almost any movie.

I even wore my noise-cancelling headphones to Disney World and they were very helpful! While many of the attractions at Magic Kingdom were at a reasonable volume, parks like Hollywood Studios were quite loud. Exhibits that included explosions and racing cars were painful for me unless I wore the headphones and activated the noise-cancelling feature. I might have looked a little bit silly but the benefits were well worth it. And my family didn’t have to listen to me complain about the noise all day.

How Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Work?

Noise-cancelling headphones work in two ways. First, they block the noise just as all headphones do, by creating a physical barrier between the noise and the ear. High quality versions are often shaped specifically to block as much noise as possible, creating a close external seal around the ear or inside the ear. This type of protection can reduce overall sound by about 20 decibels. Typically for each 10 decibels, sounds seem twice as loud, so a drop of 20 decibels is significant.

When the noise-cancelling feature is activated, a second method for blocking sound is created. Through the noise-cancelling circuitry, electronics in the earpiece create a wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the ambient noise, essentially cancelling it out. This process can cut sound levels by up to 80 decibels, almost the entire engine sound on an airplane. No wonder my noise-cancelling headphones provide so much relief on plane flights.

Where Can You Find Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

I bought mine online, but they are also available at most electronics stores and even at shops in the airport. There are several reputable brands highlighted by Consumer Reports in a 2017 article, but the various options by Bose seem to consistently garner the highest ratings. My headphones are Bose and I like them a lot! They are expensive (about $350) but the investment is worth it for me given the state of my hearing.

Where should I wear them next?

Shari Eberts

Shari Eberts

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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