No, AirPods Do NOT Cook Your Brain

Public health officials and scientists have now weighed in.
Man Wearing AirPods Credit: Donenko Oleksii / Shutterstock
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If you’ve been alarmed by recent reports that AirPods and other Bluetooth headphones could be causing brain damage, you can breathe a sigh of relief as public health officials and scientists have now weighed in, confirming that such claims have absolutely no merit.

While the jury is still out on the long-term effects of exposure to cellular phone radiation, it’s generally accepted that the concerns about it are overblown. Unfortunately, it appears that much of the misinformation around that particular issue has now spread into the realm of wireless headphones, with some suggesting that the Bluetooth frequencies emitted by these headphones also constitute harmful radiation.

These concerns came to a head with a TikTok video that went viral in April earlier this year, titled “Why you MUST throw away your AirPods,” with the creator of the video making the claim that the headphones “literally sit inside your skull” and emit low frequency radiation that “cooks” your brain.

This was seemingly backed up by a popular Facebook video that claimed to measure the radiation being emitted by AirPods and even suggested that they could cause cancer.

The video has since been flagged by Facebook as “False Information” by fact-checkers, linking to a new report from Reuters that states that no evidence could be found to support these claims, while adding input from several other health and science experts and research studies.

There is no established evidence to warrant advising people against using wireless devices like Bluetooth headphones, public health officials and scientists have told Reuters.


Non-Ionizing Radiation

For many people, the word “radiation” has a seriously negative vibe, since it immediately brings to mind everything from post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies to the kind of dangerously radioactive materials used in nuclear reactors and weapons.

However, that type of radiation is what scientists call “ionizing” radiation, and it differs greatly from the “non-ionizing” form that’s emitted by many modern electronic devices.

There are actually many sources of non-ionizing radiation, including Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones, and even your microwave oven, cordless phone, and garage door opener. Basically anything that emits signals in the gigahertz range and beyond are considered non-ionizing radiation sources, and since Bluetooth operates at 2.4GHz, this puts Apple’s AirPods in the same category — along with every other set of wireless headphones.

As Reuters explains, it’s been difficult to get conclusive studies on the potential health risks of exposure to any kind of radiation, since it’s not ethical to use humans as guinea pigs. Researchers can’t just stick a bunch of people in a room and bombard them with high-frequency radio waves to see what happens.

This is the main reason why scientists are unable to come to a full consensus on the effects of radiation from smartphones, although most agree that it’s not nearly as harmful as people’s worst fears.

What’s important to keep in mind, though, is that there are two aspects to non-ionizing radiation. It’s not only about the frequency at which the radiation is emitted from a device, but also how much power is behind the signal.

For instance, military-grade radar and microwave communication systems can emit enough radiation to seriously heat up anything placed in front of them, and there have been reports of radar technicians experiencing reproductive problems in the decades before additional safety precautions were put into place. However, these systems put out a staggering amount of power, as they were designed to send communications or detect aircraft and other objects over hundreds of miles.

However, even your microwave oven uses non-ionizing radiation expressly for the purpose of cooking food, with frequencies emitted in the 800MHz to 6GHz range. The only difference between your microwave oven and your Wi-Fi router is that your oven puts out around 1,000 watts of power. By contrast, the maximum power output of a typical Wi-Fi router is 100 milliwatts — that’s 0.1 watts, or 10,000 times less.

However, since transmission power is at least partially driven by the distance that a signal needs to travel, and Bluetooth is a much shorter range technology, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 2019 peer-reviewed study found that Bluetooth headphones emitted 10-400 times less radiation than devices like smartphones.

There is currently insufficient evidence that wireless headphones pose enough of a health risk to stop using them.

2019 study: Real-world cell phone radio-frequency electromagnetic field exposures

Are AirPods Safe?

The short answer is yes. Reuters reached out to Apple, which responded with the statement that it tests all of its products extensively to “ensure they comply with applicable safety requirements.”

AirPods and other wireless devices from Apple meet all applicable radio frequency exposure guidelines and limits. Plus, AirPods, and AirPods Pro are more than two times below applicable limits for radio frequency exposure.

Apple, in a statement to Reuters

Reuters also adds that all publicly available evidence backs this up, citing Apple’s own filings that show that AirPods are well within the limits set not only by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but also the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

Specifically, the FCC sets a specific absorption rate (SAR) limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram, while the ICNIRP is a bit more liberal, at 2 watts per kilogram. SAR is a measurement of the rate at which the body absorbs radiofrequency energy.

While Apple’s FCC filings for the AirPods and AirPods Pro reflect different SAR measurements for left and right earbuds, they’re both below even 1 W/kg, with the AirPods measuring in at 0.071 and 0.095, and the AirPods Pro at 0.097 and 0.072. Despite their larger size, Apple’s AirPods Max show an even lower SAR of 0.06.

There is currently no established evidence that the expected low-level electromagnetic fields used in Apple AirPods would cause cancer.

World Health Organisation

Reuters also spoke with several international public health agencies, all of whom confirmed that Apple’s AirPods Max are not a problem. A spokesperson from the ICNIRP, who stated that “no health problems should be expected” from any devices which comply with its guidelines, while adding that “the latest evaluation of the scientific literature [shows] there is no scientific proof that EMFs cause cancer.”

Our position is there is no convincing evidence that exposure to electromagnetic fields has adverse health effects provided exposures are below ICNRP guideline levels.

Public Health England

So, it’s safe to say that you don’t need to worry about any health risks from your AirPods when it comes to the radio frequencies being emitted by them. In fact, for many users, the only real risk is potential hearing damage, but that’s easily prevented by turning down the volume.

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