by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
From time to time scientists have raised the question of cell (mobile) phone safety and how it may affect our brains since the antennas of cell phones are transmitting electromagnetic energy into our heads.
In the past there have been concerns that cell phone usage may cause various kinds of brain cancers. Now new concerns are being raised concerning whether the electromagnetic radiation from cell phones might also affect our hearing. In fact, just such a paper was presented at the 2010 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) annual meeting and Oto Expo September 26-29 in Boston, MA. (1)
Researchers studied 125 people who were long-term (more than one year) cell phone users and 58 controls who had never used cell phones. The purpose of this study was to assess and compare potential changes in hearing function both in the inner ear, and in the central auditory pathways in the brain due to chronic exposure to electromagnetic waves from using cell phones.
Everyone in the study underwent a battery of audiological tests including “pure tone audiometry (250-12 kHz), tympanometry, distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAE), auditory brain responses (ABR), and middle latency responses (MLRs).”
The results of this study showed that people that had regularly used cell (mobile) phones for more than 3 years were at “a significantly higher risk of having DPOAEs absent as compared with controls. They were found to have higher speech frequency thresholds and lower MLR wave and Na and Pa amplitudes.” (1) In plain English, this means that cell phone users had more hearing loss than non-cell phone users. Interestingly enough, the hearing loss was the same in both ears, not just the ear to which the phone was normally held.
They concluded that long-term and intensive mobile phone use may “damage the cochlea and the auditory cortex”.
What does this mean to you? Just this—land-line (corded) phones are obviously safer—both to your health and to your hearing than cell phones.
If you are going to use a cell phone, keeping it as far away from your head as is reasonably possible would be a wise move. In other words, as much as possible, rather than holding the cell phone up to your ear, do texting, use the speaker-phone function, use a bluetooth headset or use an amplified neckloop or T-links. Using any of these methods/devices will keep your phone at some distance from your head. As a result, your phone will not be unnecessarily zapping your brain with excessive electromagnetic radiation and thus possibly causing you even more hearing loss.
If you have to hold your cell phone up to your head, keep your calls short. However, to be as safe as possible, whenever you are around a corded landline phone, use it in preference to your cell phone. (Although this study didn’t look at cordless landline phones, since they also produce electromagnetic radiation right at your head level, you might be wise to limit your use of these phones too—until long-term studies prove whether they are safe or not.)
(1) Panda, Naresh, et al. 2010. Auditory Changes in Mobile Users Is Evidence Forthcoming? Article presented at the 2010 AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting; September 26-29, 2010; Boston, Massachusetts.