Bluetooth devices emit low levels of nonionizing radiation. Exposure to low amounts of this type of radiation is not harmful to humans.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), routine exposure to nonionizing radiation is “generally perceived as harmless to humans.”
In this article, we explain why some people are worried about Bluetooth headphones. We also look at the evidence regarding the safety of these devices.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is an invisible area of energy. Both natural and synthetic objects can emit EMR.
When an object emits EMR, it sends out waves of electromagnetic energy at different frequencies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the higher the frequency of the radiation, the higher its energy levels.
There are two main categories of EMR:
These waves of EMR are of relatively high frequency and have the potential to damage human cells and DNA.
The term “ionizing” means that the EMR is able to remove electrons from atoms. This capability is why ionizing EMR is more harmful than nonionizing EMR.
Sources of ionizing EMR include:
- X-ray machines
- radioactive waste
These waves of EMR are of relatively low frequency and do not generally cause adverse effects in humans.
Sources of nonionizing EMR include:
- Bluetooth devices
- cell phones
- WIFI networks
- energy smart meters
- power lines
- MRI machines
It is important to remember that there is not a lot of research on the specific issue of Bluetooth headphone usage. Most research appears to focus on exposure to high level nonionizing radiation.
The CDC state that nonionizing radiation is only dangerous when a person comes into intense, direct contact with it. This scenario is uncommon and typically only a concern for those who work on instruments and devices that are large sources of nonionizing radiation.
A 2019 paper explains that there is a deep divide among researchers investigating the health implications of nonionizing EMR.
Some researchers suggest that nonionizing EMR can be dangerous, while others disagree. The paper states that the scientific reports can be controversial and contradictory.
Nevertheless, there appears to be growing evidence to suggest that nonionizing EMR may carry some health risks.
Researchers have found that the chance of pregnancy loss is almost three times more likely after experiencing exposure to high levels of nonionizing EMR.
Other researchers have found that women who experience exposure to high levels of nonionizing EMR during pregnancy are more likely to have children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Scientists have also studied the potential risks of cell phone use.
A long-term animal study also found clear evidence of tumors in male rats that researchers had exposed to nonionizing EMR.
However, the authors of the study point out that the findings in animals may not apply to humans. The reason for this is that the level and duration of the exposure were greater than that of the exposure that humans get from cell phones.
Also, the researchers exposed the rats’ entire bodies to the radiation, which makes the conditions different than the localized exposure that humans experience from cell phones.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified certain kinds of nonionizing EMR as possibly carcinogenic to humans. They based this decision on a link between cell phone usage and glioma, which is a type of brain cancer.
However, the FDA note that in the United States, brain cancer rates have remained the same despite an increase in cell phone usage. This consistency suggests that cell phone usage may not increase the risk of brain cancer.
Different devices also produce different amounts of nonionizing EMR. For instance, according to one study, Bluetooth headphones produce 10–400 times less EMR than a typical cell phone.
So, even if cell phone usage does increase the risk of certain health conditions, it may still be safe to use Bluetooth headphones.
In 2015, a group of more than 200 scientists wrote an appeal to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN), requesting stricter international regulations around EMR.
According to these scientists, several studies have found that EMR may be harmful to humans, even when the levels of EMR are considerably lower than those that the current guidelines allow.
The scientists behind the 2016 appeal list the following as potential effects of overexposure to nonionizing EMR:
- increased risk of cancer
- increase in free radical production
- cellular stress
- genetic damage
- changes to the reproductive system
- cognitive impairment
- neurological disorders
In their appeal, the scientists requested several new safety measures, including:
- special protections against EMR for children and pregnant women
- strengthened guidelines and regulations surrounding EMR
- EMR-free zones
- educational campaigns to inform the public and doctors about the health risks of EMR
The scientists who wrote this appeal did not specifically mention Bluetooth headphones. However, the writers of a 2019 article cited the appeal in an article specifically about the safety of Bluetooth headphones.
Since then, some people have become concerned that Bluetooth headphones are unsafe to use.
What conditions do they worry Bluetooth can cause?
Even though nonionizing EMR is much safer than ionizing EMR, some researchers are worried that nonionizing EMR may be more dangerous than we currently think.
Concerns include its effects on the risk of cancer, neurological disorders, and DNA damage.
More research is necessary to confirm whether these concerns, and others, are valid.
Currently, no evidence directly supports the idea that using Bluetooth headphones is unsafe.
Although some research suggests that exposure to high levels of nonionizing EMR can be dangerous, scientists are not certain about this connection.
It is also important to remember that Bluetooth headphones produce far less EMR than cell phones.
Nevertheless, researchers do not yet know whether Bluetooth headphones are completely safe to use.
For this reason, some people might prefer to be cautious about Bluetooth headphones. They can do this by cutting down their use of Bluetooth headphones and other wireless devices.