Do Headphones Help With Motion Sickness?

Have you ever thought about using headphones to tackle motion sickness? Find out how they work and how they can be used to reduce symptoms!

Woman feeling sick while flying

Do headphones help with motion sickness? The answer depends on the type you use and the device you use them with. Read on to learn more about when headphones can ease motion sickness and when they cannot.

There are some studies that suggest wearing headphones helps reduce motion sickness. The theory is that sound waves create pressure changes in the ear canal, which stimulate the vestibular system in the inner ear. This system controls balance and equilibrium.

With this information, you can choose the best set for when you travel.

Sounds Override Pain Signals

Headphones may help with motion sickness because the audio you listen to provides a distraction. For this reason, it doesn’t matter if you listen to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. Listening to music causes a drop in pain levels, therefore reducing your symptoms of travel sickness.

The caveat here is to be careful of the type of earphone. Models with active noise-canceling features can induce nausea and add a feeling of disorientation in susceptible people. This side effect occurs in a small percentage of buyers and wears off quickly after removing the headphones.

What Are The Symptoms Of Motion Sickness?

Are you experiencing motion sickness, or do you simply have a bug? The symptoms are similar, but with travel sickness, they occur only when you’re moving. They’ll come on very suddenly and may disappear quickly too.

People often think that they’ll simply feel sick. However, there is a range of other things to look out for:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Cold Sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased saliva production
  • Quick, shallow breathing
Young man with motion sickness

What Causes Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness results from a disconnect between the different sensory centers in the body and the brain. For example, if you are sitting on a bus, your brain might think that you’re standing still. However, your eyes may notice the backdrop sweeping by; your brain gets confused, and you feel sick.

Your brain receives signals from motion-sensing parts of your body, such as your eyes and inner ears.

How Do Headphones Help with Motion Sickness While Traveling?

They Provide A Distraction

When you’re listening to music or an audiobook, you give your brain a distraction. You may zone out and no longer even notice the movement of the scenery outside. Even if you do, your mind will be too distracted to try and work it out.

Choose music that you love or audio content that you love. Such selections will make your commute more fun and help you keep your motion sickness at bay.

Related article – How To Choose Good Headphones For Music Guide

Music Lowers The Number Of Pain Signals Reaching The Brain

Music can have several effects on the psyche. It can uplift us when we celebrate and console us during tough times. Music is most valuable when it reduces the number of pain signals produced by your body, thus ushering in a calming or even euphoric sensation.

When there are fewer pain signals, the symptoms of motion sickness become less intense.

There Are Fewer Conflicting Sensory Inputs

Our brains use a combination of sensory inputs to determine our position in the world. The body will collect data from the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and many other sections to better understand the immediate environment.

If one or more of these give conflicting information, the discrepancy causes confusion. For example, when sitting on a train, your brain won’t register this as a movement because you’re not engaging the correct muscles.

However, hearing the noisy train wheels and viewing the passing scenery tells the brain that you are moving. Removing one sensory element from the equation effectively reduces the potential number of conflicting inputs.

Related article – Are Headphones Bad For Your Brain?

Flying with noise canceling headphones

They Allow You To Focus On Something More Productive

You could, for example, choose to use headphones when meditating using an app like Headspace. For more information on using the app with your headphones, read our article here.

The advantage of this method is that it provides a distraction as the music does. However, the level of focus you need to follow the app or do something productive is higher than with music. Therefore, it might prove a better option if the music doesn’t help.

When Are Noise Canceling Earphones Problematic?

Noise-canceling earphones use two basic types of technology:

  • Active: The headset sends out a signal that effectively counteracts the noise from your environment. With this type, a small number of people find that the signal induces headaches, nausea, and other symptoms related to travel sickness.
  • Passive: These block out the sound rather than trying to counteract it. The downside is that they’re bulkier than their counterparts, but they shouldn’t cause nausea.

If possible, try any new headphones using active noise canceling out before you buy them. That way, you can gauge their effect on you. Those susceptible to the signal from the active noise canceling models often say that they could immediately feel the difference in pressure in the ear canal.

Related article – How Do Noise Canceling Headphones Work?

Woman flying and wearing headphones

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Listening To Music Relieve Motion Sickness?

Yes, but it’s not just music that will help. Any type of audio content works as a distraction. You could listen to a book, the radio, or your favorite podcast.

Related article – Can Headphones Cause Cancer?

Can Earbuds Give You Motion Sickness?

Yes, if the brain cannot identify noises coming through the earphones, you might experience travel sickness. This phenomenon is more of an issue with active noise-canceling systems. 

What Should I Listen To Prevent Motion Sickness?

Calming music is your top choice. You can also choose something fascinating, like the latest bestseller or meditation app.

When Can I Get Motion Sickness?

You can get motion sickness in any moving vehicle like a bus, car, plane, train, or ferry. Also, keep your headphones handy while playing games, as the graphics can sometimes make you feel ill.


So, do headphones help with motion sickness? The results are in, and the answer is “Yes” in most cases.

However, you may encounter difficulty when using a headphone set with active noise-canceling features. Such models emit a signal to block out ambient noise, which may confuse the brain. However, overall, headphones do offer some protection against travel sickness.