Are mobile phones damaging your ears?

Research says that radiations transmitted from the mobile phone affect the ears and are hazardous to health. Here are some tips to protect yourself from the radiations.

  • Are mobile phones damaging your ears?
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The ear and hearing pathway consists of the outer ear we see called the pinna which collects sound and transfers it to the ear canal at the end of which is a sheet of tissue called the eardrum which vibrates converting sound to energy which is transmitted through three tiny bones that act as an amplifier to a long coiled tube filled with fluid called the cochlea, in which the endings of the hearing nerve are placed. Here sound becomes electricity and is sent to the brain via the hearing nerve where it is translated to sound and understood, much like speech recognition software works.

Anywhere in this pathway damage can cause hearing loss.

A mobile phone consists of a receiver for radiofrequency waves encoders and decoders for the sound of a battery to power the circuit and a radio frequency transmitter for sending signals back to the base tower.
The transmitter takes the sound and encodes on to radiofrequency waves, which are electromagnetic radiation (combination of electricity and magnetism) which are transmitted via the antenna that is picked up by the receiver in the base station tower which itself emits radiations continuously to make a link with the mobile phone. These radiations are similar to microwaves. The further away from a tower the stronger the radiation sent from the phone to keep in contact.

Radiation is classified into two broad groups:
a. Ionising radiation (IR) (Xrays)–cancer-causing and harmful
b. Non-ionising radiation (NIR) (cell phones)– non-cancer causing but generate heat in living tissues like in the microwave oven.


What part of a mobile phone is hazardous to health?

Electromagnetic radiation from the phone as well as the base tower has been implicated as a health hazard. Some studies have indicated a link between cell-phone radiation and cancer, lower bone density, infertility in men, and changes in brain activity, while other studies have shown no adverse health effects associated with cell-phone use. This is because not enough studies have been carried out.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Its major goal is to identify the causes of cancer. The IARC has classified RF fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence of a possible increase in risk for brain tumors among cell phone users, and inadequate evidence for other types of cancer.

The rate at which radiation is absorbed by the human body is measured by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and its maximum levels for the modern handset is set between 1.6 to 2 W/Kg averaged for 1 gram tissue. If the SAR level is above the limit, it may cause both Thermal and Non-thermal effects on the body. The thermal effect of a microwave is the dielectric heating in which any dielectric material such as living tissue is heated by rotations of polar molecules (molecules which vibrate near magnets) such as water.

Thermal effect causes
Burning sensation in neighbouring tissue like ear and scalp, alteration of mood and disturbance of concentration with confusion and memory loss, exhaustion, and loss of sleep, ringing sounds in the ears, early cataract in the eyes, changes in levels of brain hormones like dopamine and serotonin responsible for behaviour and sleep.

Non-thermal effects
These include changes in bio-cycles(sleeping, walking, eating etc), metabolism, sperm production, abnormal foetal developments, miscarriage and non-specific effects like burning and tingling sensations, fatigue, sleep disturbances, dizziness, loss of mental concentration, reduction in reaction time, memory retentiveness, tachycardia etc.


Do mobile phones damage our ears?

Heating Microwave effect causes:

  • Heating of the fluids in the ear tissues, an effect characterised by clicks and Buzzing sound in the head,
  • The brains cooling system can easily remove heat, but the prolonged heating effect can alter brain functions and hearing ability.
  • Auditory illusion(hearing sounds when none exist as a result of microwaves causing current formation in the hearing area of the brain), (may happen if using earphone or Bluetooth for a long time esp for music).
  • Pain in the ear without any specific reasons like an infection.


Noise pollution


High volumes and High-frequency sound can all damage the delicate structures of the middle and inner ear. UAMS audiologist Dr. Allison Catlett Woodall says that according to a recent study, cell phone use exceeding 60 minutes per day could result in lasting damage such as high-frequency hearing loss, however a large Indian study using otoacoustic emissions came to the conclusion the damage is not in the cochlea but may be in the eardrum, hearing nerve or hearing center in the brain. People in rural areas far from towers are at a higher risk as the phone gives out more radiation to stay connected with the tower.


Tips to protect yourself from cell phone radiation

  • Hold the phone away from the ear while talking, and switch between the ears for longer conversations.
  • Use a wired headset or a Bluetooth headset.
  • Use the phone on speaker mode.
  • Carry the phone away from the body.
  • Text more than talking where possible.
  • Find a stronger signal area when talking and stay put while talking.
  • Wait till a call connects before putting it to your ear.
  • Avoid conversations longer than 10 minutes.
  • Radiation penetration in the brain and tissues is far more in children than adults, so keep mobiles away from children.
  • Avoid using the phone while driving or operating machinery as it increases attention load and lowers reaction times.

Note: This is a guest article written by Dr. Dillon Dsouza. Dr. Dsouza is a Mumbai-based consultant and an ENT, head, and neck surgeon. He consults at Jaslok Hospital, Breach Candy Hospital, and Desa Hospital. The views expressed here are personal.

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