Noise-Canceling Headphones Might Make You Motion Sick

You know those noise-canceling headphones that make it so you don't hear engine noise while traveling? Well, they might just make you sick. Really sick. Bad news for Bose!

Check out this Q&A from today's Wall Street Journal:

Q: I was recently given a pair of the Bose QC3 headphones [smaller earphones at top] with active noise canceling, and have felt queasy every time I put them on. I had to take them off and lie down at one point, and ended up throwing up later that night and was unable to eat more than apple sauce the next day. As crazy as it sounds, did the headphones cause my discomfort?

A: It's possible. Bose's "Acoustic Noise Cancelling" headphones work by electronically determining the difference between wanted and unwanted sounds, and creating a correction signal that acts to negate the unwanted noise, according to its website. (The company didn't respond to requests to comment.) Sarah Stackpole, a New York ear, nose and throat doctor, 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. These vibrations are akin to those caused by blast explosions or barotrauma in scuba diving, but much less forceful, she says. 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.

Obviously, many people have and use noise-canceling headphones all the time with no problems, but if you've got a sensitive inner-ear, you should be careful before making the plunge. And if you've ever felt a little sick after using a pair, now you know why.

Has anyone had similar experiences? [Wall Street Journal via Book of Joe]