Sunday, March 24, 2019

Are wireless headphones safe? The jury is still out

Wireless technology is in vogue today. It allows communication without the use of cables. We all use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet on our laptops, mobile phones….wireless keypads, mouse, head phones, speakers, routers, are familiar generic terms.

Technology has undoubtedly made life comfortable and easier for us. However, the impact of technology on human health is not yet fully known. It’s still a subject of research and hence, is a cause for concern.

Wireless technology uses electromagnetic waves as do the mobile phones.

The safety of wireless headphones, particularly of Apple's AirPods, has come under scrutiny. A major concern with the use of these devices is the risk of cancer due to exposure of tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation.

In 2011, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lassified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma (malignant brain cancer) associated with wireless phone use.

Class 2B means there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans, but sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Also, there is strong evidence that the agent exhibits key characteristics of carcinogens.

More than 200 scientists from 42 countries had called for protection from non-ionizing electromagnetic field exposure in a petition in 2015, where they stated: “… We are scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF). Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices. These include–but are not limited to–radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infra-structures used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF)...”

They further stated: “Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans…”

The concerns with AirPods are that since they are inserted in the ear, they are closer to the acoustic nerve and brain tissue which are susceptible to the effects of microwave radiation. They also emit near-field magnetic induction. The safety of exposure to these radiations in the long-term is yet to be established. Also, their SAR or Specific Absorption Rate is high. SAR is a measure of the rate of radiofrequency energy absorption by the body from the source (cell phone). The permissible maximum SAR value for mobile phones in India is 1.6 Watts per Kg 1 measured over 1 gm of tissue.

But, there is another view on this, which says that exposure to radiofrequency waves is minimal with AirPods as the antenna “sticks out from the ear and lies a half-inch or so above the head... it does not radiate energy into the ear”.

There has not been new research on health concerns with AirPods or Bluetooth. And, what evidence there is has only shown conflicting data. Scientists are still trying to unravel the long-term safety of using wireless and Bluetooth technology.

The jury is still out…

Tips for safe mobile phone use

·         Use headphones with cords
·         Use hands-free devices
·         Keep your phone away from the body … radiation drops down to less than 1% when the cell phone is at a distance of 18 cm (7 inches) from your body
·         Use speakerphone whenever possible to reduce exposure to radiofrequency waves
·         Most importantly, reduce use of mobile phones to the minimum possible

(Source: Medscape)

Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania   (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA

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