It seems everywhere I go I see people of all ages talking on cell phones. It’s true, cell phones have made our 21st century life a lot easier, but I’m a little concerned we might be paying for the convenience with our health.
Cell phone technology has advanced greatly over the last 20 years, but recent research doesn’t exactly give them an A+ for health safety. Let me share with you some of the controversy over health concerns surrounding cell phones and how to use them safely.
The Possible Health Risks of Using Cell Phones
A cell phone works on a radio frequency (RF) signal, a low frequency form of radiation also used in microwaves, or AM/FM radios. Phones connect to this RF energy via its antenna which sends a signal to the nearest base station antenna located in those towers we see everywhere.
As a doctor, I know that high frequency radiation, such as that found in x-rays, can cause cancer with frequent exposure. However, the cancer risk from the low frequency radiation of cell phones is confusing. Some studies say we are at risk for cancer while others say we’re not. Researchers do agree however, that the delivery of constant, low levels of radiation is the biggest concern when it comes to cell phone use. Here’s why.
Most of us use our cell phone several times a day. When we do, RF radiation is being delivered into the temporal lobe of our brains located in front and just above our ear. RF radiation also affects the parotid gland, just below our ear, by way of the antenna when we hold the phone to our ear.
A recent Israeli study shows that rural cell users, where RF towers are sparse, are at much higher risk for developing parotid gland tumors as compared to suburban cell users. This is because the rural users are further away from the base station and must draw more RF to keep a connection.
In addition, other recent studies, have found that using a cell phone for an hour a day over a 10 year period can increase your risk of developing a brain tumor on the side of your head/ear you hold your phone to.
Further, even if our phone is not in use, but is left turned on, it is still receiving RF energy that allows it to ring when you get a call. Clipped on your ear or hip pocket, or sitting in your chest pocket, your cell phone is still continuously delivering low level radiation to your body!
Even more concerning are pre-teens and teenagers who usually use cell phones for longer periods of time than most adults. Researchers feel that this age group of cell-phone users is at higher risk of developing tumors because their nervous systems are not yet completely developed. In addition, their skulls have not thickened as much as adults. Plus, they tend to “walk and talk” on public streets and often pay less attention to traffic signals putting them at risk for oncoming cars.
Can We Make Cell Phone Use Safer?
With the available, though sometimes conflicting, information to date, I feel that there could be a certain risk to our health with cell phone usage. These possible risks warrant protecting ourselves while using them. Below are some suggestions for safer cell phone use:
- Know your cell phone’s SAR level: The Federal Communications Commission requires all cell phone manufacturers to list the amount of RF absorbed into the head by any cell phone. This is the SAR, or specific absorption rate. Visit the FCC’s website for details.
- Limit talk-time: Keep your cell phone for emergency and/or quick message use. Reserve your longer, leisurely phone calls for a landline.
- Use a hands-free device – there are numerous devices available from headsets and/or dash mounts that keep your cell phone and its antenna pointed away from your body.
- Don’t use a cell phone while driving – research shows that using a cell phone while driving, either with a hands-free device or hand-held, is responsible for a 4 times greater risk of car accidents with twice the mortality rate.
- If you have a pacemaker – do not hold the phone over the chest or pacemaker area. Studies have shown that this has caused interference with pacemaker function.
- Keep your cell phone clean – in a recent study 19 out of 20 cell phones were found to be contaminated with bacteria and some superbug strains! Wipe them down with a disinfectant spray at least once a day especially if you touch public surfaces frequently.
- Limit texting – more and more patients are seen with “sore thumbs” from repetitive texting. People are experiencing pain and numbness in their thumbs and surrounding tendons that sometimes require splints or surgery!
Cell phones are a great means of mobile communication technology that I use everyday. However, I feel more research is needed to more clearly determine the level of serious health risks they pose.
In the meantime, if you use a little common sense by keeping the antenna pointed away from your head with a head-set or hands-free device you can continue to use your cell phone safely. Remember not to use them while driving or walking near traffic, and simply limit the length of time you are on the phone. Cell phones are a wonderful communication device. Let’s not overuse or abuse their function at the expense of our health!