Are Wireless Headphones Safe?

Bluetooth radiation exists, but that does not 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 headphones. Those developments also come with concerns, such as whether Bluetooth wireless headphones are safe.

In 2015, a group of scientists signed a petition expressing "serious concern" about the potential health risks of non-ionizing electromagnetic field (EMF) technology, like cancer. All Bluetooth devices use EMF technology.

How much of a risk do wireless headphones that use Bluetooth technology pose when it comes to health concerns, such as 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 uses short-range radio frequency to connect devices within a certain distance.

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

Of note, Bluetooth devices give off slightly less radiation than cell phones, Ken Foster, PhD, a professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, told Health.

That exposure could add up if you use wireless Bluetooth headphones for hours a day to listen to music or podcasts. You will get less exposure than if you 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 the energy to move atoms around but cannot remove electrons from those atoms. In contrast, ionizing radiation has the power to do both.

Non-ionizing radiation has less energy, making it less likely to harm your health. Ionizing radiation, which includes X-rays and radioactive waste, can damage your tissues and DNA. Damaged cells may become cancerous if the body does not correctly repair or get rid of them. 

Carcinogens are any substances or exposures that may result in cancer. Specific medical treatments like radiation are among the types of exposure that fall under the list of possible carcinogens.

Does Bluetooth Technology Pose an Increased Cancer Risk?

Bluetooth technology is a type of non-ionizing radiation, meaning it is not cancer-causing.

Still, conclusions about Bluetooth and its link to cancer risk remain elusive. Research has not conclusively linked RF radiation—specifically, for cell phones—with adverse health effects. Though, more studies 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. Bluetooth devices are well below that level, even when placed directly against the skin.

The Apple AirPod antenna that receives and transmits radio waves does not sit inside the ear canal, pointed out Foster. Instead, the antenna is in the section that remains outside and extends below the ear. Still, to reduce your exposure, you can remove wireless devices from your head or ears when you are not using them.

Simply stop using wireless technologies if you want to be even more cautious, advised Foster. Instead, opt for wired headphones. 

"[You] should also be aware [you are] getting similar exposure from [your] cell phones and other Bluetooth devices," noted Foster.

Are Wireless Headphones Safe?

No matter what type of headphones you use, it is essential 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.

Headphones can damage your hearing if you do not use them responsibly. You cannot reverse hearing loss, but in many cases, you can prevent it.

Limiting your headphone use to 60–90 minutes daily, with regular breaks and a volume of no more than 60% to 80%, is best. Turn the volume down even further if you listen longer than 90 minutes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises noise-canceling headphones so you will not be tempted to turn up the volume to block out other sounds. Noise-canceling headphones are not a good choice if you are going out for a walk or are in any other situation where being unable to hear your surroundings is a safety hazard.

A Quick Review

While more research is needed, experts generally do not consider radiation from wireless headphones a health risk. You can switch to wired headphones if you are still concerned.

Whether your headphones are wired or wireless, you will still want to protect your safety and hearing by reducing your headphone use, turning down the volume, and staying mindful of your surroundings.

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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. Environmental Protection Agency. Radiation resources outside of EPA.

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

  10. Nemours Foundation. Earbuds.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October is National Protect Your Hearing Month.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Noise-induced hearing loss.

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