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Do Noise Cancelling Headphones Do More Harm Than Good?


Noise sensitivity is often a major issue for those with sensory challenges. Many seek to use headphones that block out the world, to help them stay in control, focus or concentrate. There is no doubt that our world and the noises in it makes have grown and our ears have a lot more to contend with compared to the caveman days!

So with some saying noise cancelling headphones do more harm than good, how do people on the autism spectrum cope? Sound sensitivity can be common for many people, including but not limited to people with OCD, anxiety disorders, Tourette Syndrome, brain injuries, tinnitus and /or those with Misophonia  (a “hatred or dislike of sound,” characterized by selective sensitivity to specific sounds accompanied by emotional distress, and even anger, as well as behavioral responses such as avoidance.)

So what can be done to help this situation? Why do some feel they can do more harm than good?

The Problem

There is a school of thought that using noise cancelling devices increase noise sensitivity. You get used to wearing them and therefore once removed, the noises are even more unbearable. Everything feels louder, stronger and worse than before. This, in turn, leads to becoming more reliant on them and the cycle continues.

However, noise cancelling devices can also be used to build up a tolerance to noise! Maybe you can’t access a certain place due to the noise but with noise cancelling devices on you may be able to start going into that environment for a small amount of time and build this up. Eventually to the point that you may not need the noise cancelling device at all.

Some even feel it allows people to escape a bit too much! It then has an impact on social skills and the ability to interact.

All are valid points if, like anything in life they are used to excess. However, some people, in some situations really need these!

Misophonia Can Be Serious

Imagine the child with misophonia in a classroom, who cannot learn, concentrate on the maths test in front of them because all they can hear is someone on the other side of the classroom. This child who had their tonsils removed and now breathes through their mouth. It’s overwhelmingly loud, painful and they literally cannot focus, it’s ALL they can hear.

What about the mother who needs to go to the supermarket, but knows her child cannot cope with the noises, tannoys and general bustle of the shop.

Or the employee who cannot complete a report because their office colleague on their keyboard sounds like nails down a blackboard.

Noise Cancelling Devices Can Help

It is like everything in life, moderation and excess… Tablets are not bad, phones are not bad… being on them 24/7, not speaking to anyone else is….

I see noise cancelling devices as exactly the same. I would not advocate using all day, everyday… there is nothing you would say is healthy to do all day, every day. I do buy into what is being said that if used to excess then you may cause your body to get used to a reduced level of noise… but really I feel most people have common sense and that must prevail.

They can be a fantastic aid to a person’s life if used appropriately. They can allow that child in the classroom to ace her test. The mother to do the shopping and the employee to deliver an awesome report.

So don’t be put off, if you need them, limit their use to that need then go for it!  These days there is such a wide choice, from uber cool but equally expensive bulky overhead, headphones and ear defenders to more discreet in earplugs.

I suspect it’s because I exist in the sensory world, but to me, nothing screams sensory issues more than a big bulky pair of ear defenders. There is nothing wrong with that, but for the person that seeks to blend in rather than stand out, there are some cool, discreet alternatives that reduce noise but don’t block it out completely. These would be my personal preference and that is why we ended up seeking out what we consider to be the best of these for our store, so you can benefit too!

We have combined it into an awesome bundle with the emotichew too, so combing a communication aid with the earplugs. Find Them Here!


So to conclude, only you know your needs or the needs of the person you care for… if you need headphones to cope with a situation… if it improves your life, but is not blocking out the world all day every day, then go for it! No one else has walked in your shoes!

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