Do Wireless Bluetooth Headphones Increase Cancer Risk?

Bluetooth radiation is a thing—but that doesn't mean you should worry about your wireless earbuds.

The world of technology is continuously evolving, especially when it comes to wireless and hands-free devices—including tablets, home security systems, speakers, and headphones. Those developments also come concerns about how they may affect our health, such as whether there's a link between cell phones and increased cancer risk.

Bluetooth wireless headphones are another realm of technology that has raised concerns about brain cancer risk. In 2015, a group of scientists signed a petition that expressed "serious concern" about the potential health risks, like developing cancer, that non-ionizing electromagnetic field (EMF) technology used by all Bluetooth devices pose.

So, how much of a risk do wireless headphones that use Bluetooth technology actually pose when it comes to health concerns, like cancer? Here's what you need to know.

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What Is Bluetooth Technology?

Technology developers use Bluetooth to create wireless connections between two different technologies. Bluetooth operates by using short-range radio frequency to connect devices within a particular distance.

Because Bluetooth devices are wireless, they also utilize radiofrequency radiation. That type of radiation falls under electromagnetic radiation (EMR), which travels in waves using electric and magnetic fields. It also occurs in natural and manmade states. Cell phones, AM and FM radio, and televisions emit radiofrequency radiation.

It's important to note that Bluetooth devices give off slightly less radiation than cell phones by about one-tenth or less, Ken Foster, PhD, a professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia pointed out.

So, if you use wireless Bluetooth headphones for hours a day to listen to music or podcasts, that exposure could add up. But if you're using them to have phone conversations, you'll actually get less exposure than if you were to hold your phone up to your ear.

What's the Connection Between Radiation and Cancer?

Radiation exists as non-ionizing or ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move atoms around, but it cannot remove electrons from those atoms. On the other hand, ionizing radiation has the energy to do both.

Because non-ionizing radiation lacks energy, it is less likely to be harmful to your health. However, ionizing radiation, which includes ultraviolet (UV) radiation, X-rays, and radioactive waste, has the ability to cause damage to your tissues and DNA.

Carcinogens are any substances or exposures that result in cancer. Medical treatments—including radiation (such as the radiation involved in chemotherapy)—are among the types of exposure that fall under the list of possible carcinogens.

Furthermore, in terms of exposure to ionizing radiation, a cell may become cancerous if not repaired in the right way.

So, Does Bluetooth Technology Pose an Increased Cancer Risk?

Bluetooth technology falls under the non-ionizing radiation category, meaning that it's not cancer-causing.

Still, conclusions about Bluetooth and its link to increased cancer risk remain elusive. Because research is inconclusive about radiofrequency radiation and its negative health effects (specifically, for cell phones), more studies that examine the relationship are needed.

What To Do if You're Worried About Radiation From Wireless Devices

The U.S. government sets safety standards for the amount of radiation emitted from consumer devices. And Bluetooth devices are well below that level, even when placed directly against the skin.

Foster pointed out that the Apple AirPod antenna that receives and transmits radio waves does not sit inside the ear canal. Rather, it's in the section that remains outside and extends below the ear.

Still, to reduce your exposure, you can remove any wireless devices from your head or ears when you're not using them. And if you want to be overly cautious, you can simply stop using wireless technologies, recommended Foster. Instead, opt for wired headphones.

"But [you] should also be aware [you're] getting similar exposure from their cell phones and from other Bluetooth devices," added Foster.

And no matter what type of headphones you use, according to Foster, it's important to watch out for health risks that are more immediate than tiny amounts of radiation.

"If you're walking around with your earbuds blasting, and you walk out in front of a car, that's a lot more dangerous than some theoretical tumor 20 years down the road," said Foster.

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  1. EMF Scientist. International EMF Scientist Appeal.

  2. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. Understanding bluetooth technology.

  3. National Cancer Institute. Electromagnetic fields and cancer.

  4. Environmental Protection Agency. Radiation basics.

  5. American Cancer Society. Determining if something is a carcinogen.

  6. Food and Drug Administration. Radio frequency radiation and cell phones.

  7. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Electric & magnetic fields.

  8. California Department of Public Health. CDPH issues guidelines on how to reduce exposure to radio frequency energy from cell phones.

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