You make the call about wire­less ear­buds

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

“Congress shall make no law ... abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press ... . ” — From the First Amend­ment to Constituti­on

Dear Doc­tor: Are those wire­less ear­buds ev­ery­one seems to be wear­ing nowa­days safe? I heard that some in­ter­na­tional re­searchers are pe­ti­tion­ing the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion about them be­cause the sig­nals that they emit may be hurt­ing our brains. Should we be con­cerned?

Dear Reader: When it comes to wire­less de­vices, which have been swiftly and near-uni­ver­sally adopted over the last two decades, ad­vances have far out­paced our abil­ity to mon­i­tor or even un­der­stand the po­ten­tial health ef­fects and con­se­quences.

Wi-fi, which first be­came com­mer­cially avail­able in 1997, is one of the fastest-grow­ing tech­nolo­gies in his­tory. Cell­phones quickly moved from a pricey niche prod­uct to the ubiq­ui­tous pocket com­put­ers of to­day, their tele­phone func­tions now barely an af­ter­thought. (Fun fact -- the first truly wire­less phone call was made in 1973 on a “mo­bile” phone that weighed 2.5 pounds.) And now, with the ad­vent of wire­less ear­buds, phone man­u­fac­tur­ers are bring­ing wire­less tech into even closer and more sus­tained con­tact with the body.

At is­sue are EMFS, or elec­tric and mag­netic fields. These fall into two cat­e­gories -- ion­iz­ing and non­ion­iz­ing. Ion­iz­ing EMFS are high-level ra­di­a­tion with the po­ten­tial to cause dam­age to cells and DNA. Non­ion­iz­ing EMFS, which are low-level ra­di­a­tion, are the ones gen­er­ated by wire­less de­vices. Non-ion­iz­ing EMFS haven’t been proven to be harm­ful to hu­mans. But they haven’t been shown to be harm­less, ei­ther, and so the de­bate rages on.

As you point out in your let­ter, some sci­en­tists and re­searchers are raising an alarm. In 2015, a group of 250 doc­tors and sci­en­tists who spe­cial­ize in EMF re­search signed a pe­ti­tion di­rected at the WHO and the United Na­tions. In it, they state their be­lief that the non-ion­iz­ing EMFS re­leased by wire­less de­vices pose a range of health haz­ards. These in­clude can­cer, mem­ory prob­lems and re­pro­duc­tive and ge­netic dis­or­ders. The U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, mean­while, does not con­sider the low-level EMFS re­leased by cell­phones and wire­less de­vices to be a health hazard.

The de­bate about non-ion­iz­ing EMFS doesn’t hinge on the power of the en­ergy fields gen­er­ated by our wire­less de­vices, which ev­ery­one agrees are on the low end of the non-ion­iz­ing EMF spec­trum. In­stead, it fo­cuses on the ef­fects of sus­tained ex­po­sure from the grow­ing num­ber of wire­less de­vices we’re let­ting into our lives. Now, with wire­less ear­buds be­ing placed into the ear canal, the con­cern is that we have moved from be­ing bathed in non-ion­iz­ing EMFS from a dis­tance to di­rect­ing them into our bod­ies and close to our brains.

As we men­tioned ear­lier, the re­sults of on­go­ing re­search into the health ef­fects of low-level EMFS re­main mixed at this time. Sci­en­tists point out that Blue­tooth de­vices, which in­clude wire­less ear­buds, give off less than 10% of the ra­di­a­tion of cell­phones. But if you’re at all wor­ried, skip the wire­less ear­buds and stick with the old-school wired ones. Yes, it’s true that a num­ber of cell­phone man­u­fac­tur­ers have ditched the head­phone jack in their de­vices in re­cent years, but you can get an adapter that lets you used wired ear­buds or head­phones. •••

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an in­ternist and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health. El­iz­a­beth Ko, M.D., is an in­ternist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health.


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