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Many of my friends have switched over to earbuds (wireless earphones), and have asked me if earbuds emit EMF radiation. I was pretty convinced I knew the answer, but I decided to do a bit more research on the issue.
So, do earbuds emit EMF radiation? Wireless earbuds, including Apple Airpods, emit high levels of EMF radiation, mainly in the form of microwaves. They rely on Bluetooth technology, among other things, and this is a potentially dangerous thing to have so close to your brain.
Read my article on bluetooth radiation which includes some handy protection tips.
In this article I look at why it’s potentially so dangerous to have earbuds that emit EMF radiation, and solutions for this problem. After all, more and more companies are moving towards this technology, so it’s worth finding out the answers now.
Earbuds and EMF radiation
Wireless headphones realistically aren’t that revolutionary in terms of the technology. Sure, they seem like a convenient thing for many people, but I’ve always thought that they’re seen as a better option simply because they were forced upon us.
In short, wireless headphones, including earbuds, Apple Airpods, and wireless over-headphones, all use Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth uses microwaves to send data wirelessly, which for the most part is a very convenient thing. It revolutionized the way we send data and accessed devices.
Read my article on radiation from Airpods.
However, this is the same technology used in WiFi routers, cell phones, and even microwaves (the clue is in the name). Anyone who knows a thing or two about EMF radiation will know that these are all problematic and potentially harmful devices. But why is that?
All of these devices rely on microwaves, and for Bluetooth, it’s specifically between 2.4 and 2.8GHz in frequency. It’s what’s known as non-ionizing radiation, although Bluetooth devices give off other forms of EMF radiation, such as heat energy.
General EMF radiation safety guidelines for these appliances and devices are often to stand a pretty large distance away (for some WiFi routers, it can be up to 20ft). Similarly, for cell phones, it’s recommended that you don’t spend more than 20 minutes a day on calls, specifically with the device against your head.
Read my article on cell phone radiation protection.
If earbuds rely on the same technology, is it really a good idea to have them so close to your brain? They’re technically closer than a cell phone would be, as they’re actually inside your ears. That’s a lot of EMF radiation to be blasting into your head on a regular basis.
Obviously, the biggest thing is that earbuds haven’t been on the market for that long, and the research on them relating to EMF radiation is pretty slim. While this means we don’t know much about the long-term impacts on our health, it’s fair to assume that based on other similar technologies, the answers probably won’t be too positive.
You could realistically compare the use of earbuds instead of wired headphones to vaping instead of smoking: it might seem like a good use of technology, but what do we really know about what it’ll do to use 20, 30 years down the line? As it stands, we don’t, and I’m always one to tread on the side of caution.
Potential health concerns of using earbuds
When it comes to the potential health impacts of EMF radiation, the device doesn’t really change the symptoms. Devices that emit more EMF radiation are obviously going to be more harmful, and so the symptoms might be worse, but they’re usually the same.
Symptoms of EMF radiation exposure are quite varied, and some people will experience them differently. Some people are particularly sensitive to EMF radiation and so take steps to cut electronic devices out of their lives. Others may be sensitive to it, but not know because the symptoms are passed off as something else.
Here are some of the general health concerns related to EMF radiation exposure:
- Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
- Increased blood pressure
- Changes to DNA structure in cells
- Increased risk of leukemia
- Changes to skin protein structure and composition
- Damage to brain cells and activity level
- Sleep disruption
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Fertility issues
These symptoms might seem like the kind of thing you’d associate with living next to a cell phone tower, but they’re the general symptoms of EMF exposure. As I mentioned, the intensity of symptoms will depend on the strength of EMF radiation coming from a device, so you are more at risk from something like a cell phone tower.
You also have to consider things like length of exposure and proximity to your more “sensitive” areas (brain, organs, reproductive bits). This means that passing by a cell phone tower isn’t great, but your length of exposure to this kind of EMF radiation is very short.
Earbuds, on the other hand, are something that people use regularly, and often for prolonged periods. Just think, if you use them for 2 hours a day during your commute to work, then that’s 10-14 hours a week from that alone.
When you factor in other use, you could be looking at quite a bit of time spent with these things jammed in your ears.
This is actually one of the other big dangers for using wireless earbuds: not only are they close to your brain, but the protective barrier between your brain and the device is much thinner. Rather than the usual skin, muscle, and bone that offer some protection from radiation, here you’ve only got your ear canal.
The point of the ear canal is that it’s incredibly sensitive, as this is what allows us to pick up sounds. This means that all the parts are very thin and fragile, and so are going to be much more prone to damage from things like EMF radiation. Your ear canal is also full of very specialized cells, which have much greater potential for developing abnormally.
In the grand scheme of powerful EMF devices, earbuds are pretty low. They work at quite a short range and have relatively low power consumption. That said, it’s also worth remembering that microwaves are one of the most potentially damaging forms of EMF radiation, and that they’re very close to your brain.
The potential health dangers of devices like cell phones and WiFi routers have been drilled into us for quite some time, and more research is being done on them every year. If people have concerns over these devices, and are recommended to limit their use, why would this logic not apply to earbuds too?
The biggest problem with EMF exposure is that it takes a very long time to come to light, and so it’s hard to point to this as a cause for illness. That said, vaping didn’t take too long to show its potential health effects, so maybe the same will be true about wireless headphones.
What to do about EMF radiation from earbuds
The main solution for protecting yourself against EMF radiation from earbuds is pretty obvious: just don’t use them. For some cell phones, this solution might not be the easiest, so it might be worth trying other solutions.
Below are some ways to work with the issue of EMF radiation. Unlike other EMF emitting devices, it’s not really possible to somehow block the radiation, so it’s worth considering alternatives. Here are my top suggestions:
1. Be careful with how often you use your earbuds
If you really can’t switch back to wired headphones, then try to limit your use of them as much as possible. The general advice for cell phones is 20 minutes of call time a day, but it seems a bit pointless to recommend this for listening to music.
Instead, I’d try and limit yourself to about an hour of use a day. If you think you’re going to be using them more than this, such as on your daily commute, then I really would consider switching back to old-fashioned headphones. It’ll potentially be much better for your health in the long run.
2. Find other ways to cut EMF radiation out of your life
While you can’t really substitute EMF radiation from device for another, it might be worth finding ways to reduce your exposure to EMF radiation in other areas of your life.
Considering we spend up to a third of our lives in bed, it’s definitely worth removing as many electronic devices from your bedroom as possible. One of my top tips is to not leave your phone near your bed while you sleep, particularly if it’s on charge.
It might seem obvious then, but don’t use your wireless earbuds in bed. If you want to listen to something while you sleep, have it on loudspeaker if possible. Aside from EMF radiation, you can also cause considerable damage to your eardrums by rolling onto an earbud.
I regularly used to enjoy listening to music or audiobooks in bed, and I always use wired, over-head headphones. More than anything, having a proper pair of headphones on means you’re less likely to roll onto them, and if you do then they won’t press into your ears.
3. Keep away from them while they’re charging
Different brands will of course have different charging methods, but wireless charging is becoming increasingly popular. After all, why invent wireless earbuds if they have to be plugged in to charge?
The danger here is that the charging stations also emit EMF radiation. Wireless charging is an incredibly impressive thing, but it works using something called electronic induction.
In short, it basically creates an electromagnetic field between the charging port and the device. This translates to much higher levels of EMF radiation, mainly in the form of microwaves.
I’d recommend keeping at least 1 meter away from the charging port while it’s in use. This is true for both wired and wireless charging, but you’ll want to increase the distance for wireless chargers. Basically, the further away from it you are, the better.
4. Be careful where you store them
It isn’t the case for all wireless earbuds, but ones like Apple Airpods are only turned off when they’re in their storage case. This means that if you simply put them in your bag (or worse, your pocket), then they’ll still be transmitting information to and from your phone.
Always make sure you store them somewhere away from your body, such as in a drawer or a bag, when you’re not using them. If you want to go all out, buy an EMF blocking case for your earbuds, and store them in there.
These cases basically act like mini Faraday cages, and you can get them for cell phones and other wireless devices. Keeping one of these in your bag for when your earbuds aren’t in use is a pretty good idea. It at least limits your exposure to EMF radiation while you’re not using the headphones.
5. Put care into which brand you buy
In some cases, you might not have loads of choice as to which brand you buy (looking at you Apple). However, if you do have some flexibility, then do a bit of research before investing in a particular model.
One thing to look out for is whether the earbuds are constantly transmitting. Some might do this if they have a voice activation function, such as linking to Siri or Google Assistant. Others, however, won’t include this feature because they’re designed for use across multiple platforms.
Also, pay attention to the kind of technology they use. It’s worth reading user reviews and tech write-ups to pick up this kind of information. It’s unlikely that many people will relate this to EMF radiation, but it’ll at least help you make a more informed decision.
Some final thoughts
I doubt it comes as much surprise that earbuds emit high levels of potentially harmful EMF radiation. The best advice I can give is to limit your use of these devices, if not to cut them out of your life completely. As we’re still not sure of the health impacts, it’s definitely better to be cautious.