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What do we know about the health impacts of EMF exposure from wireless headphones?

This article was published on
June 16, 2021

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There is currently insufficient evidence that wireless headphones pose enough of a health risk to stop using them. People who are concerned can limit the hours that wireless headphones are worn, use alternatives like speakers when possible, and seek guidance from qualified health professionals. 

There is currently insufficient evidence that wireless headphones pose enough of a health risk to stop using them. People who are concerned can limit the hours that wireless headphones are worn, use alternatives like speakers when possible, and seek guidance from qualified health professionals. 

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What our experts say

Exposure to electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields (EMF) can come from natural as well as human-made sources. For example, a common natural source is ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

There are two categories of EMF exposure: non-ionizing (low-level) and ionizing (high-level) radiation. Sources of non-ionizing radiation include power lines, microwaves, cell phones, and WiFi routers. Bluetooth wireless headphones fall into the non-ionizing radiation category.

Sources of ionizing radiation include X-rays and radioactive materials, which are of higher concern for cellular damage and cancer risk. While non-ionizing radiation sources are generally considered safer than ionizing radiation sources, lower risk does not mean zero risk. 

There have been some studies on the potential health risks of non-ionizing radiation from sources like cell phones, sparking scientific debate among experts about what regulatory guidelines should exist for limiting EMF exposure.

While these studies have been limited (i.e. using animal testing and looking at trends in overall population data, because of the ethical issues of exposing humans to radiation), there are concerns that current guidelines need to be revised in order to take more precautions in protecting human health. The findings in scientific literature are still relatively inconclusive and there is not yet scientific consensus, so more research is being conducted to understand the health impacts of lower levels of EMF exposure.

Bluetooth wireless headphones emit relatively low levels of radiation compared to devices like cell phones, with power density exposures estimated at 10-400 times lower, according to a peer-reviewed study published in 2019 to inform public health guidance. Using wireless headphones for a call, instead of putting a cell phone directly against the ear, has been proposed as one potential way of limiting EMF exposure from cell phones.

There is currently insufficient evidence that wireless headphones pose enough of a health risk to stop using them. People who are concerned can limit the hours that wireless headphones are worn, use alternatives like speakers when possible, and seek guidance from qualified health professionals. 

Context and background

In 2015, over 200 scientists signed on to an international appeal to the World Health Organization (WHO) calling for "strong leadership in fostering the development of more protective EMF guidelines, encouraging precautionary measures, and educating the public about health risks." 

Unfortunately, false claims have been circulating that this appeal by scientists is a warning against radiation from wireless headphones including Apple AirPods, despite the fact that this appeal was written before the product release of Apple AirPods. At this time, there is insufficient evidence from scientific studies to suggest that the amount of radiation emitted by Apple AirPods can cause significant damage to health.

It is important to continue to do research on this topic and ensure public safety through policy regulations based on scientific evidence.

Resources

  1. Real-world cell phone radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposures (Environmental Research Journal)
  2. Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Time-Varying Electric, Magnetic and Electromagnetic Fields (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection)
  3. Radiation: Electromagnetic fields (World Health Organization)
  4. EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields) (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  5. Electric & Magnetic Fields (U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
  6. Non-ionizing Radiation (U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
  7. Ionizing Radiation (U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
  8. Scientists call for Protection from Non-ionizing Electromagnetic Field Exposure (EMFscientist.org)
  9. Should You Be Worried About EMF Exposure? (Healthline)
  10. There’s No Link Between Apple AirPods and Cancer (Healthline)
  11. The truth behind claims Airpods cause cancer (Quartz)

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