As a relatively new technology, especially to the commercial market, it’s understandable that many people would have concerns about bone conduction headphones. Since our balance and orientation are so closely linked to our inner ears, which is what bone conduction headphones make contact with, people often ask me if bone conduction headphones can cause vertigo.
Bone conduction headphones can cause vertigo in some instances. Some people are more prone to vertigo than others and are affected more severely. Because bone conduction leaves your ears open, they can cause vestibular imbalance, which leads to symptoms of vertigo and disequilibrium.
Bone conduction headphones make perfect sense for some use cases, like athletes, but are they worth the effort if they cause you to feel the unbearable symptoms of vertigo? Let’s look at why they have this effect and a few things you can do to avoid it.
Why Do Bone Conduction Headphones Cause Vertigo?
Our sense of balance and orientation depends on the organs of the vestibular system located inside our inner ears. When these systems are thrown out of balance, we may begin to suffer from vertigo.
Many things can cause such an imbalance, including unexpected vestibular stimulation, such as vibrations or movements that don’t correspond with what the brain perceives from other senses. An excellent example of this is motion sickness, caused by how the brain perceives you as standing still while everything around you is moving, causing a sensory contradiction.
With this in mind, bone conduction headphones could cause vertigo for three reasons:
- Bone conduction headphones leave your ears open, transmitting sound signals directly to your inner ears. Some people have more sensitive vestibular systems. They can be thrown out by something as simple as the two different sound channels, similar to how noise-canceling technology can also cause vertigo (though it’s very rare).
- Vibrations can cause imbalance, leading to vertigo. As the bone conduction headphones send vibrations into the bones around your inner ear, these vibrations have a direct path to your vestibular system to cause the symptoms of headaches, dizziness, and imbalance.
This can be made even worse in cases where people have SCDS (Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome), a condition where some of the bones around the inner ears are abnormally thin. Such users can develop vertigo after using bone conduction headphones for only a few minutes.
- Bone conduction headphones’ close association with sports can also have a negative effect and cause vertigo. Since vertigo is so close to motion sickness, riding a bike while listening to music over bone conduction headphones will double the impact of the symptoms. There have been cases where people passed out and had to be rushed to the ER because of it.
Are There Bone Conduction Headphones That Don’t Cause Vertigo?
Some bone conduction headphones claim not to cause vertigo or alleviate the symptoms and improve balance, though most of them fail to provide evidence or explain how they go about it.
A possible exception is Advanced Brain Technologies’ Waves bone conduction audio system. The technological basis makes sense – Waves headphones play audio through bone conduction and your ears, which helps to minimize the vertigo-causing aural disorientation your brain perceives.
There are three problems with this and other approaches that try to minimize vertigo in bone conduction headphones:
- Particularly in the case of Waves, what’s the purpose of using bone conduction then? All the advantages are removed since your ears are covered, negating environmental awareness gains. The manufacturers state that it helps to make your listening experience more immersive, but most people would argue that you can achieve that with any decent pair of headphones.
- There’s a lack of scientific evidence that any of the approaches manufacturers use truly help against vertigo. The methods make sense but are unproven, at least for now.
- Vertigo can occur for various reasons, and some people are just more prone to it than others. It’s not easy to predict, so it’s also not easy to fix.
So, it might be worthwhile to invest in a pair of bone conduction headphones that could help you not get vertigo. But when you do so, ask the representative to explain how it helps and see if the explanation makes sense so you don’t get fooled by marketing jargon.
What Can I Do To Avoid Getting Vertigo?
You can do a few things on your side to try and minimize the possibility of vertigo or to help alleviate the symptoms if it’s already too late. Note that the effectiveness of these solutions will depend on the cause of vertigo and any pre-existing conditions you may be suffering from. In severe cases, it’s best to contact a medical professional.
Listen At Lower Volumes
All headphone manufacturers provide warnings to listen at safe volume levels, and your phone will likely give you the same warning occasionally. But people love listening to music at high volume levels, especially on bone conduction headphones, since there’s a perception that they can’t damage your hearing (which is false, by the way).
Increasing the volume on bone conduction headphones amplifies the vibrations, which is one possible cause of vertigo. So, if you know you’re prone to getting vertigo, don’t push the volume too high.
Don’t Listen Constantly
Ear fatigue can also cause vertigo and various other problems. That’s why it’s essential not to have your headphones on permanently (which applies to any headphones, not just bone conduction models).
You may have to wear and use them for hours—for example, athletes participating in a marathon or people attending long online meetings and video calls. Those same people often suffer from migraines, nausea, or dizziness at the end of such days, which are signs of vertigo.
Take a break occasionally. Don’t just pause your audio but take the headphones off entirely. Spend a few minutes just listening to the environment around you. This will give your ears and brain the change of pace they need to restore balance.
When you feel the first signs of vertigo, you should be able to stop it from worsening by grounding yourself. So, at the first sign of dizziness, imbalance, or headaches, take off the headphones and do the following:
- Sit down and lean forward, looking down at the ground. This is similar to the “brace” position they tell us about on planes, but not so far forward. You must be comfortable.
- Close your eyes and keep them closed for a few minutes.
- Take deep, slow breaths.
- Listen to your breathing and the environment around you.
After a few minutes of this, the symptoms should subside.
The Epley Maneuver
There’s a possibility that the Epley maneuver won’t work if your vertigo comes from using bone conduction headphones alone. Still, it’s worth trying, especially if you are prone to getting vertigo from time to time.
- Sit upright on any end of your bed, then slowly turn your head 45 degrees toward the left or right shoulder, depending on which side is causing vertigo.
- Lie straight down on your back with your head turned at this angle.
- Have a pillow behind your neck that will allow your head to tilt backward at 30 degrees.
- Slowly turn your head until it faces the other side at the same 45-degree angle. Hold it there for a few seconds, then slowly turn it back to the other side again.
- Keep doing this for a few minutes or until the symptoms of vertigo subsided.
Get Medical Help
Treating some forms of vertigo with medication is possible, but many of these can have side effects like drowsiness. So, if you will be active while using your bone conduction headphones (like running or cycling), ask a doctor to prescribe something safe for you to use.
Bone conduction headphones have some health benefits over standard headphones or earphones, but they can cause vertigo, especially in people who get motion sickness often. You can try to use lower volumes and take regular breaks from your headphones, which often helps alleviate the symptoms. If the vertigo is severe, it’s best to consult a medical professional.