Concerns about the safety of wireless technology have come and gone ever since their conception. Today, many people specifically worry about Bluetooth headphones because of their proximity to the inner ear. Are these concerns legitimate? Are Bluetooth Headphones Safe? Yes and no, but let’s dive into the details.
There are two main kinds of electromagnetic radiation, or EMR: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing EMR is the more dangerous of the two. Ionizing EMR has the power to remove electrons from atoms and can permanently damage DNA. Examples of ionizing EMR can be found in sunbeds, X-rays, and sunlight.
Non-ionizing EMR is still radiation, but it does not generally cause negative effects in humans. Examples of this include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microwaves, and personal electronic devices like the device you’re reading this article on. However, non-ionizing EMR, also known as radiofrequency radiation, or RFR, was listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic in 2011. This was based on research studying the relationship between a type of brain cancer and cell phone use.
There is a deep divide between scientists as to whether RFR is dangerous for humans, and to what extent. It is generally agreed that high levels of RFR are potentially dangerous. An example of this would be holding your phone to your head for a couple of hours a day, every day, for years. These high levels of radiation could become dangerous over time. However, even as new research rolls out, the danger of RFR continues to be a source of conflict and debate for scientists.
There have been many controversial studies that have claimed anything from increased risk of a lost pregnancy to increased risk of brain cancer as a result of RFR. It is important to note that brain cancer rates have remained constant, according to the FDA, even as cell phone usage increases. This suggests that cell phone use might not increase cancer use. Even so, some research has shown the opposite, so it might be safest to avoid holding your phone against your head for a long time.
Is Bluetooth Dangerous?
A safer option than holding your phone against your head would actually be Bluetooth headphones. While Bluetooth is a source of RFR, it is estimated that it releases 10-400 times less RFR than a cell phone. However, it is not just the amount of RFR that is released that increases risk, but also the amount that seeps into the body. SAR, or specific absorption rate, measures the amount of radiation that is absorbed by the body from a device. While Bluetooth headphones do produce less RFR, they are also in a more dangerous location than a phone, which sits outside of your ear.
In-ear Bluetooth is likely more dangerous than on-ear or over-ear because it is in a spot that increases the SAR of radiofrequency. While Apple Airpods, for example, have been measured and recorded at a safe level of SAR, some scientists worry that prolonged exposure to in-ear Bluetooth headphones could increase cancer risk. Some scientists even worry that low SAR levels could damage us over our lifetimes due to prolonged exposure. In general, it is safest to use a variety of devices when listening to music, podcasts, or on the phone, so that you do not constantly have Bluetooth headphones inside of your ear.
Some precautions have already been mentioned, but many steps can be taken to use Bluetooth devices safely and worry-free. If you are on a long phone call, use the speakerphone instead. When you do have to take a call on your phone, try to hold it at least several inches from your ear. If you are alone in your home, or those with you don’t mind, listen to your music out loud instead of through Bluetooth headphones. If you are especially concerned about your health, consider wired headphones and speakers instead of wireless. Be creative and come up with precautions of your own if you feel worried about any potential risks to your health.
These precautions are especially important for children and pregnant women, groups that are more at risk in research studies. Children, as well as unborn babies, are more at risk from radiation because they have thinner skulls and smaller heads. It is practically impossible to avoid radiation completely, but these practices can keep you safe in the long run.
Research is still inconclusive about the dangers of RFR, so it is best to use common sense when using an RFR-producing device. Best practices include using Bluetooth headphones instead of pressing a phone against your ear, playing music from a speaker rather than Bluetooth headphones if possible, and semi-frequently giving your body breaks from RFR. In short, don’t expose yourself to nonionizing EMR more than necessary, but don’t be afraid to enjoy some tunes on your favorite pair of the best Bluetooth headphones.
Written by Dawson Graham