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Wireless Bluetooth headphones are currently all the rage and are only going to get more popular as the technology develops. However, if you’ve asked yourself how safe are wireless Bluetooth headphones, then you’re not alone. I decided to look into this in some detail, but here’s a quick answer:
Wireless Bluetooth headphones use radio signals to communicate with the paired device. Current research suggests that prolonged exposure to radio waves may increase your risk of glioma, a type of brain cancer. However, many factors affect the overall safety of these devices.
In this article, I’ll look into the safety of wireless Bluetooth headphones in a lot more detail, along with explaining the best ways to prevent overexposure. I’ll also look at precisely what it is that makes wireless headphones potentially dangerous.
Do wireless Bluetooth headphones give off radiation?
Wireless Bluetooth headphones do give off radiation in the form of EMF waves. Bluetooth is essentially a brand name for a particular kind of radio frequency communication, which is a form of electromagnetic radiation. So, in short, wireless Bluetooth headphones do give off radiation.
EMF stands for electromagnetic frequency, which is any type of wave that falls into the electromagnetic spectrum. This includes everything from visible light and x-ray to infrared and radio waves. Some are much more dangerous than others.
For example, we all know that x-ray and UV radiation is harmful to our skin and organs, as this is well documented. Visible light isn’t necessarily dangerous in itself, as it’s the UV radiation that causes us to get sunburnt, which in turn can cause cancer.
Radio frequencies are classed as non-ionizing radiation, which means it’s low-level EMF radiation. While some people think this means it isn’t harmful, it’s realistically not that simple.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classed radiofrequency radiation as a carcinogen back in 2011, particularly the frequencies used with cellphones. And what’s Bluetooth if not a radio frequency used in cellphones?
However, while research into the potential dangers of radiation seems reasonably advanced, the biggest issue is the lack of long-term research into problems related to cellular devices, such as cellphones or wireless devices.
Although humans have been using radio waves to communicate for over a century, we’ve never before been exposed to EMF radiation on the scale we are now. Just think of all the wireless devices you’ve got around the home and then consider whether this is really safe.
So while it’s generally inconclusive whether Bluetooth headphones and cellphones cause cancer, this is really because there hasn’t been enough research into the matter. Read my article which compares cellphone and Bluetooth radiation. For something to be confirmed as a scientific fact, it must be peer-reviewed and confirmed several times, which simply hasn’t happened yet.
Does this mean wireless Bluetooth headphones are dangerous?
Generally speaking, it’s best to assume that Bluetooth headphones are dangerous until it’s proven otherwise. They’ve only really been around for 5 years or so, and that’s definitely not long enough to confirm their long-term health implications.
The key here is exposure times. A study conducted in 2018 by the National Toxicology Program found that prolonged exposure to radiofrequency radiation can cause cancer.
However, merely going by the term overexposure (or prolonged exposure) can be difficult because it’s relatively subjective. For example, some people are more susceptible to cancer than others, so it would take less exposure for the problem to begin.
As mentioned, Bluetooth uses radio frequencies similar to how Wi-Fi routers work. It operates at frequencies between 2.4 and 2.5GHz and generally has a range of up to 33ft.
Considering we all know the dangers of overexposure to Wi-Fi radiation, and Bluetooth devices should be used with the same caution. That said, considering there isn’t a definitive answer to acceptable exposure, it merely requires you to be sensible with how you use the devices.
Are wireless Bluetooth headphones bad for the brain?
Possibly the issue that worries people the most about the health implications of Bluetooth speakers is their proximity to your brain. Considering your brain is full of soft tissue and salty fluid, it’s a reasonably fantastic conductor of electrical signals. After all, this is how our cells communicate.
Bluetooth wireless headphones are bad for the brain because of their proximity to your head. EMF radiation becomes weaker with distance, so inserting headphones into your ears is potentially very harmful. EMF radiation at such a small distance is going to be most damaging.
The 2 most important things to consider when thinking about the dangers of EMF radiation are distance and the type of radiation. This is because EMF radiation decreases in intensity with distance, meaning the further away you are from the source, the weaker it is.
There are several different ways of measuring radiation intensity depending on the source, but the generally accepted rule is that intensity halves at double the distance. For example, if you measured a radiation intensity of 10 at 2ft, the strength would be 5 at 4ft.
Therefore, sticking headphones into your ears (or over them) means your head is as close as possible to the source of radiation. This would effectively be like wearing a Wi-Fi router on your head.
When AirPods were first released there was quite a big uproar about them. The biggest issue for many experts was the fact that you have to put the headphones inside your ear, which puts them close to your ear canal.
This simply makes the problem worse because of how thin your eardrums are. Whereas your skull is quite thick and is designed to protect your brain (albeit not from radiation), your eardrums are purposefully incredibly thin, meaning they’re not particularly useful barriers against radiation.
As mentioned, the long-term health impacts of EMF radiation are generally seen as unfavorable, although more research needs to be done. However, wireless Bluetooth headphones are potentially more problematic for several reasons:
- Proximity to your head. Unlike Wi-Fi routers or cellphone towers, Bluetooth headphones are put in our ears, which massively reduces the distance from the source.
- Exposure levels. Overexposure is a vital issue with EMF radiation; considering the length of time some people wear headphones, this is a definite concern.
- Lack of research. We’re still not entirely sure how our bodies interact with Bluetooth frequencies in the long term, making this a big problem.
Health impacts of EMF radiation exposure
Other than potentially increasing our risk of cancer, there are many other health problems associated with overexposure to EMF radiation. Wireless headphones are a relatively easy way to overexpose yourself, as you might be wearing them all day for one reason or another.
Again, this is a big issue because of the headphone’s proximity to your brain, which makes them significantly more problematic than the cellphone tower at the end of your street.
Some of the potential health effects of wearing Bluetooth headphones include:
Headaches and mental health issues
A study published in 2016 summarized the impacts of EMF radiation exposure on our mental health, and the results were somewhat surprising. It found that prolonged exposure to EMF radiation can cause several mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
One of the main reasons behind this is because EMF radiation triggers the VGCC (voltage-gated calcium ion channels) in our brain. These are responsible for helping neurons communicate, and disrupting them in this way can lead to chemical imbalances.
Many people have also reported an onset of headaches related to the overuse of Bluetooth headphones. The leading cause of this is the proximity of EMF radiation to our brain, but there needs to be more research into this particular issue.
However, it’s also worth noting that headphones can cause compression headaches. These have nothing to do with EMF radiation but are caused by the way headphones hold themselves on our heads, which uses a clamping force.
Similarly, other people experience dizziness and vertigo caused by noise-canceling headphones. The cause is believed to be the low-frequency sound waves created by the headphones, so this is indirectly related to EMF exposure.
Overexposure to EMF has been linked to ADHD in children because the EMF radiation causes calcium leakage into cells. A study conducted by Oxford University found this link, although complete causation was never established.
In short, the link is believed to be related to cells leaking calcium. This mineral is used to help cells communicate, and so leakage can lead to them being hypersensitive or for them to transmit unwanted signals.
Damaging brain cells in this way can lead to loss of concentration and foggy mental activity, which are both symptoms of ADHD. Considering children are more at risk of EMF radiation exposure than adults, the risk speaks for itself here.
For the same reason, exposure to EMF radiation can cause significant damage to our DNA. This is caused by disruption to ion channels and calcium levels, as mentioned above. The results were published in the same study.
Damage to DNA is effectively what causes cancer. Damaged DNA causes cells to reproduce incorrectly, which is how a tumor forms. This is a problem anywhere in the body but is especially so in the head for many reasons.
Tinnitus is characterized as ringing in the ears, but it can also sound like clicking or hissing. There are several causes, including ear infections, loud noises, and, surprisingly, EMF radiation.
A major review of 165 studies into tinnitus was conducted, which found that exposure to EMF radiation close to the ears can cause or worsen tinnitus issues.
It’s worth noting that tinnitus isn’t a condition in itself, but is a side effect of another condition, even if this is just hearing loss. Therefore, tinnitus caused by exposure to EMF radiation is a sign of a potentially more significant issue.
Other symptoms of EMF exposure
The symptoms listed above are those that can be linked to the use of wireless Bluetooth headphones, but they’re by no means the only symptoms of EMF exposure.
Other symptoms can include:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Insomnia or difficulty waking up
- Loss of appetite
- Tingling skin or a burning sensation
- Issues with concentration or memory recall
One of the main issues with symptoms of EMF exposure is that they’re reasonably vague and aren’t useful for diagnosing the issue. For example, many symptoms can be related to other common health problems, such as cold or flu.
This is mostly a problem when it comes to seeking treatment, as many doctors would overlook EMF exposure as a cause for these symptoms. Similarly, everyone can be affected differently by EMF exposure, so you might only experience some of the symptoms.
The easiest way to check if EMF exposure is the root of your health issues is to reduce exposure simply. Doing this systematically by removing different sources of EMF radiation and monitoring your symptoms should help to recognize the culprit.
Ways to reduce EMF exposure from wireless Bluetooth headphones
If you feel concerned about your exposure to EMF radiation, mainly from wireless headphones, then you can rest assured that there are several things you can try to solve this problem.
Below are my top suggestions for reducing exposure from wireless headphones. However, if you find they’re causing you problems, then you might be sensitive to EMF radiation. If so, I’d suggest taking further steps to reduce the problem.
1. Switch back to wired headphones
Perhaps the most obvious way to reduce exposure to potentially harmful Bluetooth signals is to switch back to wired headphones. After all, we’ve been using these for a long time, so they must be safe, right?
Not completely so. Even wired headphones emit some level of EMF radiation, as they use electrical signals. However, these are much less harmful than radio frequencies.
Wired headphones work by taking an electrical signal from a source device (such as your cellphone), which are then converted into acoustic sounds by the speakers in the actual headphones.
This means that the signal transferred along the wire is electric, and so are the signals found in the speakers. It’s only once they become acoustic sounds that they stop emitting EMF radiation.
However, studies found that the level of EMF radiation emitted by wired headphones is nowhere near as big a problem as Bluetooth signals. That said, some brands of wired headphones did emit radiation over the safe levels, so you have to be smart with which ones you use.
2. Limit exposure to EMF radiation
This is another no-brainer, but reducing your exposure to EMF radiation will, in turn, reduce the risk associated with these devices. While I’d consider no exposure to be the best level, this isn’t always possible.
Therefore, if you have to use wireless Bluetooth headphones, try to do so for as little time as possible. I’d recommend wearing them for no more than 2 hours at a time, and leaving plenty of time before you next use them.
As mentioned earlier, overexposure is relatively subjective. But anything more than 4 hours a day is probably a fair threshold for overexposure. This should reduce the risk of compression headaches too, mainly if you’re using over-head headphones.
This logic is correct for cellphones too. Try and spend no more than 20 minutes at a time with a phone pressed to your head. If the call is going on longer than this, put it on loudspeaker on a surface away from your head, or use headphones.
3. Try radiation-free headphones
Radiation-free headphones (Amazon link) are an exciting development explicitly designed for combatting this problem. They realistically solve the challenges posed by both wired and wireless headphones.
How do they do this? Put merely, EMF free headphones move the speakers away from your ears by positioning them further down the wires. This means the electrical signals are converted to the acoustics at a much safer distance.
These acoustic signals then travel up a hollow tube to reach the buds that are placed inside your ears. They work the same as an old-school megaphone: by echo.
The hollow tubes used to transmit the signals are free from metal too, which means there’s nothing to conduct stray EMF radiation towards your ears. If you’re concerned about the health impacts of headphones, then these are by far the best option.
However, they do have one major drawback, particularly for audiophiles. Because they effectively work by echoing, the sound quality is nowhere near as good as what you’d find in a pair of good quality wired headphones.
Some final thoughts
Wireless Bluetooth headphones are a significant source of EMF radiation. This is a particular problem because of their proximity to your head, a notoriously fragile (and useful) body part. This is particularly true for in-ear buds, as they’re close to a delicate membrane.
If you’re concerned about EMF radiation levels, then the best thing you can do is switch over to a different style of headphones. There are plenty of options to solve this problem, but make sure you shop around to find the best quality.
Thanks for reading! Check out my recommended products for EMF protection.