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Are Bluetooth Headphones Safe: Bluetooth Radiation & Cancer

Last updated: 7 months ago
6 min read

Many scientists and people have raised concerns about radiofrequency radiation and its potential human health risks. Are those concerns justifiable or exaggerated?

In this article, you will learn:

  • Everything about Bluetooth headphone radiation and the current official stance on its potential harms
  • Preventive measures you can take to lower the amount of exposure.
Bluetooth radiation safe

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  • Bluetooth’s main safety concerns are whether it can damage DNA, interfere with the cochlear nerve, and cause infertility in males.
  • Bluetooth headphones work using a 2.45 GHz frequency range, which is shared among other home appliances like Wi-Fi routers and microwave ovens.
  • So far, no studies directly connect Bluetooth radiation to higher cancer risk or any other health-related problems.
  • To minimize exposure to Bluetooth radiation, keep your headphones and transmitting device close to prevent radiation spikes, and avoid wearing them during listening sessions.
  • Wired headphones are safer than wireless headphones due to even smaller radiation. While Bluetooth radiation is already negligible.

CONTENTS (show more)

    What are Bluetooth Headphones and Earbuds: Quick Explanation

    Bluetooth headphones and earbuds use a wireless data-transmission technology called Bluetooth that operates in the 2.4GHz to 2.4835GHz frequency range.

    This range, and many neighboring frequencies, are often used by other common technologies and devices, like smartphones, Wi-Fi routers, and even microwaves.

    Bluetooth WiFi interference
    WiFi routers, smartphones, and Bluetooth headphones transmit data at different powers.

    But the power at which these devices emit RF radiation is vastly different. More on that later.

    Lately, Bluetooth headphones have become increasingly popular, especially after manufacturers decided to remove headphone jacks from smartphones and laptops.

    Main benefits?

    The main benefit of using Bluetooth headphones and earbuds is freedom of movement, and not being restrained by a short cable.

    Safety Concerns About Bluetooth Headphones and Earbuds

    The word “radiation” sounds scary, especially since we are talking about a (mostly) invisible thing. But not all radiation is problematic.

    Bluetooth falls into the “microwave range” of frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum scale. That’s right below infrared radiation and visible light (yes, the colors we see are made of frequencies).

    Visual explanation of electromagnetic radiation:

    Electromagnetic spectrum scale
    Non-ionizing radiation doesn’t have a short enough frequency length (and not enough energy) to damage your DNA.

    Related: Are headphones and earbuds safe?

    Bluetooth’s 2.4 GHz operating range is shared with your kitchen microwave, which helps heat the food. So, can Bluetooth cook you too?

    The main difference is in radiation power. Kitchen microwaves can output 700W or more, whereas standard Bluetooth headphones output a maximum of 2.5mW of power (milliwatts).

    Bluetooth Class 2 devices are the ones with a maximum range of 33 feet (or 10 meters), as you normally see written in headphones specifications (Class 1: 100 feet, Class 3: 10 feet). Although the effective range increased to up to 800 feet after Bluetooth 5.0.

    For example, that’s even far less than 600mW of peak power that your smartphone emits during a phone call, as stated in Stanford research.

    Nevertheless, heat is still the most noticeable effect of prolonged exposure to radio-frequency radiation. An electromagnetic field at 2.45 GHz creates a dielectric heating effect, which agitates water, fat, and sugar molecules and creates heat.

    Person on a phone call
    If your ears feel warm and sweaty after a long phone call, radiation could’ve heated them.

    However, since the transmission radiation is so low, a person’s tissue during a phone call can heat up between 32.4°F (0.22°C) to 32.7°F (0.43°C) after a 20-minute call, the threshold for brain or eye tissue damage is the increase of 39.2°F (4°C), as stated by Stanford.

    Wireless gadgets’ radiation power is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). For example, they have set a legal limit for cell phones’ SAR level (Specific Absorption Rate or the amount of radiation absorbed) to 1.6W per kilogram.

    What about long-term exposure to Bluetooth?

    Since the technology is new and Bluetooth headsets have massively picked up in the last few years, it’s too soon to see any long-term effects. Nonetheless, considering short-term effects, no harm was discovered in humans.

    Can Bluetooth Technology Cause Cancer?

    There are health concerns surrounding wireless technology. However, according to research surrounding Bluetooth, it is unlikely to cause cancer, as stated by the National Cancer Institute.

    Looking back at the electromagnetic spectrum, everything between 1 Hz to 790 THz (the maximum frequency of visible light) falls into non-ionizing radiation. Bluetooth works at 2.4 GHz, so it’s somewhere in the middle.

    Non-ionizing radiation are frequencies that aren’t small or powerful enough to cause DNA damage, which could lead to the creation of cancerous cells.

    Sure, non-ionizing radiation can cook or burn you, but only if exposed to extreme radiation. Which Bluetooth isn’t.

    Numerous studies tried to find links between RF radiation and brain cancer (or any other type) in humans, with the majority disproving the hypothesis. Even the ones looking for the connection between RF and childhood cancers.

    That said, a few studies have shown possible links between excessive radiation and increased risk of malignant heart tumors in lab rats and mice.

    Lab testing stock

    But even that was later questioned by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), as the studies didn’t allow to draw any strong conclusions.

    Again, these studies involved much greater radiation exposure than in the case of Bluetooth, so they’re hardly applicable.

    Do AirPods cause cancer?

    Apple AirPods don’t cause cancer since they use the same Bluetooth technology as any other Bluetooth headphones. And, so far, there’s no proof Bluetooth is harmful to humans.

    A CDC expert and the California Department of Public Health even recommend switching from a smartphone to a Bluetooth headset during a phone call to reduce RF radiation exposure.

    Are Bluetooth Headphones and Earbuds Bad for Your Health?

    Very few studies were made with Bluetooth and its effects on health in mind. But the current conclusion is that Bluetooth is harmless to humans.

    However, we should keep an eye on more research and new studies that will observe long-time exposure to RF radiation and take precautions when using Bluetooth (more on that later).

    Especially since people and researchers have concerns about how RF radiation affects the inner ear (cochlea) and hearing.

    Apple AirPods 3 in ears
    By current knowledge, Bluetooth headsets don’t interfere with the inner ear or cause any damage.

    Quite a few studies suggested possible links between cell phone use during calls and potential hearing loss, especially in higher frequencies, with some suggesting no hearing loss if calls lasted under 10 minutes.

    On the other hand, Bluetooth radiation is much lower than cell phones, so its impact on the inner ear is theoretically lesser. Based on an Italian study, Bluetooth headsets don’t interfere with cochlear nerve activity.

    Wireless vs. wired headphones safety

    Compared to wireless, wired headphones emit only a tiny amount of radiation due to the electrical current running through a cable.

    However, note that:

    • Most of the energy goes to transmitting an audio signal.
    • Cables have at least basic insulation against environmental RF interferences, which works both ways.
    • Most consumer audio devices can output around 31.6mW of sustained power (or 50mW peak).

    Considering all these facts, radiation from wired cables is negligible.

    How to Use Bluetooth Headphones and Earbuds Safely?

    While most studies regarding Bluetooth radiation shows the technology is perfectly safe for humans, the tech still falls into the RF radiation category alongside smartphones, Wi-Fi, and similar wireless gadgets.

    Therefore, official recommendations are the same for all. The FCC and FDA issued at least 2 steps on how to reduce RF radiation exposure from Bluetooth headphones and earbuds:

    • Reduce the amount of time using Bluetooth devices. While shorter usage durations are proven unharmful, dangers during longer durations still need to be determined. So, avoid using Bluetooth or wireless headphones for multiple hours straight, or at least take occasional breaks. That will also help prevent hearing loss due to long exposure to loud music.
    Sleeping with AirPods
    That includes sleeping with Bluetooth earbuds (wearing them for 8 hours).
    • Keep your transmitting device in the vicinity. In case of poor connection, wireless devices boost their transmission power. Keep receiving and transmitting devices close to each other to keep their Bluetooth radiation low.
    • Avoid using your transmitting device near your reproductive system (for males). Studies have shown that radiation from smartphones (which do radiate at a much higher power, but nonetheless) can negatively affect sperm count and quality.

    Read more:

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Do Bluetooth headphones cause radiation?

    Bluetooth headphones cause minimal radiation. If cell phones emit around 600mW of peak power during calls, Bluetooth headphones emit radiation at only 2.5mW of power.

    Do Bluetooth earbuds cause cancer?

    There are currently no studies to prove Bluetooth earbuds cause cancer. Research papers found the potential harm of radiofrequency radiation on lab rats but not humans.

    Conclusion

    Science is constantly giving new answers and sometimes disproving older beliefs. However, so far, there is no proof that Bluetooth radiation harms humans.

    But suppose you want to be extra careful. In that case, you can limit the time spent using Bluetooth headphones and earbuds and keep your transmitting device nearby to prevent unnecessary bursts of radiation.

    Remember that you’re constantly bombarded with possibly even higher dosages of RF radiation from other wireless devices in your home and outside.

    Furthermore, you’re exposed to harmful ionizing radiation as soon as you step under the sun or simply due to cosmic radiation from space.

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