A while back someone mentioned that they were getting headaches while wearing their Apple AirPods, which did make some sense to me, so I wrote up a full guide on it. However, I realized later on that the guide I wrote didn’t fully cover the topic of whether AirPods were safe, if they emitted EMF radiation, and so much more.
So, the purpose of this guide is to dive deep into how AirPods work, how much radiation they emit, whether they are safe for long-term use of short term use, and much much more. We’ll also cover AirPods and the newer AirPod pros, including the important differences.
I’ve broken this guide up a bit to make it easier to consume, so if you’re looking for something in particular, please feel free to scroll through as you need, it won’t hurt my feelings. However, I do think that everything you’ll read here is important and interesting, so I’d encourage you to be patient!
Ok, enough blabbing, let’s talk about whether AirPods are safe, and how and why they emit EMF radiation.
Do AirPod’s Emit EMF Radiation?
The short answer is yes, AirPod’s do emit a form of electromagnetic frequency radiation (EMF/R) called Radio Frequency Radiation (RF). All wireless devices emit this type of radiation when they transmit data.
The typical culprits are things like cell-phones, WiFi routers, and any smart home devices. When these devices send packets of data to another device, they do so through radio frequency signals, which also expose those nearby to a type of non-ionizing radiation.
We’ll talk more in a minute about how this type of radiation can potentially be harmful, but first I want to cover a bit more about how this actually works and how Airpods function in a way that wearers are exposed to quite a bit of this radiation.
How Do AirPods Work?
AirPod’s may just look like a simple pair of wireless earbuds, but they are actually quite complex. In fact, if you take a look at this teardown from iFixit you’ll see that they are basically full-blown mini-computers that you place inside your ear.
Not only do they have sophisticated antennae, but they have microchips in them that are capable of performing many things at once.
Later, when we talk about the AirPod Pro’s, you’ll see that those are even more complex.
AirPod’s connect and stream sound via Bluetooth, specifically Bluetooth 4 (or 4.1 or 4.2). Bluetooth, just like cellular transmissions, is still a form of radiofrequency radiation, typically in the band of 2.4 to 2.485 Ghz.
Bluetooth is popular for devices like these because it has a quick data transmission rate and nearly all devices are capable of connecting to and utilizing it.
When we talk about Airpod Radiation and Safety though, wireless headphones like the Apple AirPod and AirPod pro are a concern, because you’re putting such a powerful, RF transmitting, mini-computer inside your ear canal, extremely close to your brain.
We’ll talk specifically how much radiation Airpod’s emit in a minute, but it’s important to understand just how powerful these devices are.
How Much Radiation Do AirPods Emit?
If you’ve read other articles on my site, you might have heard me talk about Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR. This is an important measurement, because it’s how regulatory agencies control the amount of radiation that devices are allowed to emit.
Basically SAR is a measurement of how much radiation is absorbed by the body from a given device. In the United States, for example, all cell-phones must emit less than 1.6 W/kg of bodyweight. That means when measured in a lab, your head should not be absorbing more than 1.6 Watts of energy for each kilogram of bodyweight you have.
If you look up the SAR rating for any cell-phone (here is a list I put together for the lowest SAR phones) you should be able to find this information readily available, because it’s legally required that they disclose it.
In fact, here is a guide I put together that gives 7 simple ways you can check the SAR value of your phone. In fact, anything that can connect to cellular towers such as iPads or other tablets, as well as smartphones, must disclose the specific absorption rate, and stay under the mandated minimums inside the country where they are sold.
Our problem when it comes to AirPods though is that Bluetooth devices do not have to disclose this radiation test.
So, I decided to do my own testing, and here is what I found:
Airpod Radiation Levels
A few disclaimers before I get to my results. First of all, this is me testing them in my own environment, not in a lab, so these results are far from official, but they are very “real-world.” Also, I don’t own Airpod’s and was only able to borrow a pair of the newer AirPod pro’s to test with. Once I’m able to test normal AirPod’s I’ll be sure to update this article.
For this test, I played music through the AirPod pro’s (I turned off the automatic ear detection so that they would play even when not in my ear) then I placed them on a table away from other electronics, and tested the RF radiation emissions with my Trifield TF2.
I then took measurements in two ways:
- With both AirPod’s very close to the Trifield Sensor
- With one AirPod pro close to the sensor, and the other unit about a head’s width away.
The important number’s to look at in these pictures are not the large ones, but the “Peak” level’s in the top left of the screen.
Because Radio Waves transmit data in packets, EMF meters like the Trifield in the picture read the radiation levels with the Peak reading instead of the regular one.
The results of each test were similar, with the AirPod Pro’s emitting about 7 to 7.6 mW/m^2 of RF radiation.
If you’ve read my article called “What is a High EMF Reading” you’ll see that the current consensus is that living spaces should have RF radiation levels of under 1 mW/m^2, or about 7 times less than the AirPod pros emit (at very close range).
Now, obviously this is an imperfect test. So, what I really want you to take away from this is the fact that AirPod’s do emit a fairly high amount of EMF radiation, in close proximity to your skin and brain.
Here is a video example of another gentleman measuring the RF radiation emissions from the AirPods Pro so you can get a more visual example.
Ok, now that we’ve discovered the fact that AirPod’s do in fact emit radiation and how they work, let’s talk specifically about whether or not they are safe.
Are AirPod’s Safe?
This is the big question that I think we need to answer, and really, in order to answer it there are a few things that we need to talk about.
First of all, we’ve established that Airpods and Airpods Pro do in fact emit RF radiation, but we haven’t talked yet about whether that radiation is actually dangerous for humans.
Now, I’ve covered the topic of RF radiation dangers and their health risks extensively in other articles, so this will be a bit more high level and highlight oriented, however there is quite a bit to cover.
First of all, RF radiation from Bluetooth devices like Apple’s airpods absolutely has the potentially to be harmful to human health. At this point, I think that this is fairly well established.
Even regulatory agencies recognize that too much EMF radiation exposure is harmful, which is why they put in place limits like SAR in the first place.
I mentioned above that Apple does not have to disclose SAR levels for Airpods, however they still have to be below certain guidelines.
However, many experts, including doctors and scientists believe that these guidelines developed first in 1998 and yet to be updated, do not do an adequate job of protecting the public.
In fact, before you found this article you may have come across articles mentioning that “250 scientists warn of Airpod cancer risk,” or something to that effect.
Well, the headline is compelling, but not quite accurate.
What IS accurate is the fact that in 2015, a group of 250+ scientists wrote an appeal to the World Health Organization and the United Nations requesting that they re-evaluate their guidelines on electromagnetic field exposure limits.
The appeal cited “serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices.”
In this report they did not specifically mention AirPods (which hadn’t even been released yet) but did state that their concerns “include-but are not limited to-radio frequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infra-structures used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF).”
In 2019 the appeal was updated, but still did not specifically mention AirPod’s. However, it did mention devices that use the same Bluetooth technology and applications as Airpods.
You see, one of the most important factors when considering the danger of EMF radiation is the proximity of your body to that radiation.
There is something called the inverse square law of physics. This law essentially states that as we double our distance from a source of radiation, we quarter our exposure to it, allowing for exponential levels of protection.
The issue with Bluetooth headphone like Airpods is that there is no distance between you and the device.
AirPod’s, or any wireless Bluetooth headsets with individual earpieces, place the Bluetooth transmitters directly in or near your ear. However if you look at the image on the right, you’ll see that previously many Bluetooth earphones actually used a single transmitter on the cord connecting the earpieces.
This second method puts one of the large radiation sources at the nape of your neck, much farther away from your brain.
So, we know that AirPod’s expose your body to EMF radiation, which many scientists and doctors believe could be a concern, especially due to the frequency of use and proximity to your brain. Now it’s time to talk about something that you’ve likely seen headlines of.
Do Apple AirPods Cause Cancer?
This is actually a really difficult question to answer because there are so many variables and so many unknowns. However, let’s talk for a minute about a few things that we do know.
Also, if you want to dive much deeper into this topic specifically, I do have a full guide talking about whether Bluetooth headphones (like Apple AirPods) could cause cancer that I’d encourage you to check out.
We don’t have specific research on AirPods and whether they cause cancer, but we do have some research and knowledge that the same kind of RF radiation that is emitted from wireless technology can lead to an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer.
For example, if you’ve read any of my articles on cellphone radiation than you’ll know that long-term use has been shown to increase your risk of developing certain brain cancers like glioma.
Basically, high levels of radiofrequency radiation can lead to negative health effects.
In fact, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency EMF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) based specifically on the increased risk for brain tumors such as glioma that I mentioned above.
When talking about the possible risk of cancer from wireless earbuds you’ll probably also come across statements from Jerry Phillips who is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado Springs.
Essentially Jerry thinks that current safety standards for Bluetooth and other wireless technologies have to abide by is not adequate at protecting the public health.
In talking about AirPods, he said the following:
My concern for AirPods is that their placement in the ear canal exposes tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation,” says Jerry Phillips, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He mentions tumors and other conditions associated with abnormal cell functioning as some of the potential risks. These risks are not restricted to AirPods. Existing evidence “indicates potential concerns for human health and development from all technologies that operate at radio frequencies,”
One interesting bit of information is that this quote from Jerry Phillips when it first showed up in the Medium article I linked to caused quite the commotion and sparked many articles to be written; some in defense of the statements, and some certainly not defending them.
Scientists in defense are saying things like:
“EMF Scientists have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to radiation from wireless devices and antennas from all sources, including the pulsed digital signals Bluetooth transmits,”Elizabeth Kelley, director of the International EMF Scientist appeal in an email to Business Insider
While many others are simply stating that taking phone calls on your iPhone exposes you to far more radiation than the headphones.
Obviously, there is much more to be discussed about this specifically, so if you want to read more take a look at this article I wrote.
Possible Health Concerns From EMF Exposure To The Head
Now that we’ve covered the worst potential health risk, let’s talk about a few other common ones.
Headaches from wearing Apple AirPods or other sources of Bluetooth radiation have been reported by thousands of people since their launch.
In fact, within months of AirPod’s first release, hundreds of people had already commented and complained on the Apple forums about regular headaches while wearing the headphones.
Although there are a few possible reasons for this, some believe it was due to the electromagnetic radiation from the devices.
I wrote a whole investigative article on AirPod Headaches if you’re curious about that.
Tinnitus is usually thought of as a constant ringing in the ears but is actually classified as any noise in the ear without an external source present. It’s actually quite common and affects a large percent of the population. Technically it’s more of a symptom than a condition, usually the result of some sort of injury or circulatory disorder.
Wearing Bluetooth headphones has been linked to Tinnitus, but there isn’t a clear way to know if it is the radiation from the headphones, or simply the loud noise directly in your ear that is causing it.
Other Symptoms and Concerns
There are too many to go over specifically, however Healthline made a nice list of the possible symptoms and effects of EMF:
- sleep disturbances, including insomnia
- depression and depressive symptoms
- tiredness and fatigue
- lack of concentration
- changes in memory
- loss of appetite and weight loss
- restlessness and anxiety
- skin burning and tingling
- changes in an electroencephalogram
Alright now that we’ve covered AirPod radiation in some detail and talked about whether they can increase your risk of cancer as well as other symptoms, let’s talk for a little bit about what we can actually do about it.
Safer Listening Options
AirPods are super convenient and the sound quality is great, I’ll give you that, but honestly there are safer ways to listen to music or make phone calls.
In this section, I want to cover some simple ways that you can not only reduce your exposure to EMF radiation from sources such as your headphones and cell-phone, but also some simple products that you can use to replace them for a healthier experience.
First, let’s cover a few strategies you can use, and then we’ll look a some product alternatives that I really like.
1. Use Speaker Phone
This won’t really help you when you’re listening to music, but when you’re making phone calls this is a great option.
I actually recommend this in many of my articles about cell phone radiation because keeping your phone away from your head is a great way to reduce your overall EMF exposure.
Basically, the idea is to keep the phone away from your brain whenever you’re making a phone call (or even listening to a podcast).
2. Use Only One AirPod Earbud
This might be something that you discovered on your own, but it’s actually a fantastic way to lower your exposure if you just can’t give up on using them.
Whenever your AirPods are out of the case, not only are they communicating with your phone, but they’re also communicating with each other.
Using just one AirPod earbud will not only allow you to hear if your kid is calling you from the other room or that car honking at you on the road, but will also lower your exposure to the device by more than half.
Alright, now let’s take a look at a few good product alternatives.
3. Use Traditional Wired Headphones
These are simply just safer than using Bluetooth or wireless headphones. The sound is traveling up the wire instead of being transmitted to a small computer right next to your ear.
Although these aren’t as good of an option as Airtube headphones, they are a much safer alternative generally.
4. Use Airtube Headphones (Best Option)
Airtube headphones are one of my absolute favorite EMF protection products, and a great alternative to AirPods or any other Bluetooth headphones.
In fact, they are even quite a bit safer than normal wired headphones.
If you take a look at the picture to the right of a pair of Airtube headphones, you’ll see some small ovals at the bottom. These are actually the speakers for the headphones.
They send the sound up a literal tube of air to the earpieces, which contain no electronics themselves.
The idea is that you’re getting the speakers away from your brain and the soft tissue inside of your ear and putting that EMF source a safe distance away instead.
The sound quality is still fantastic, and has kind of a cool, slightly hollow vibe to it that makes music sound incredible.
My favorite pair from Defendershield is linked above.
Now that we’ve covered some simple ways to make listening a bit safer, let’s cover a few related questions that I get asked all the time.
Is It Safe To Sleep With AirPods In?
In the short term, sleeping with AirPods or other wireless earbuds is generally considered safe. However, it’s important to keep the volume low to protect your eardrums and be certain that you aren’t putting too much pressure on the earbuds which can cause potentially cause damage.
In the long-term, radiation exposure, especially while sleeping, could cause adverse health effects. If you are going to sleep with headphones, consider a safer alternative such as Airtube headphones.
Is It Bad To Wear AirPods All The Time?
Wearing AirPods or any other wireless earbuds for extended periods of time could increase your risk of adverse health affects from the radio frequency radiation exposure. We know that the damage from such exposure is generally cumulative, so reducing that exposure could be healthier.
There will likely not be any immediate harm to wearing AirPods for whole days at a time, but you should keep a close eye on how you’re feeling, your mood, frequency of headaches etc. to be certain your body is comfortable with such use.
Are Airpods Safe For Children?
We know (and I’ve written about extensively) that children are more vulnerable to the potential adverse health affects of EMF and RF radiation.
This is primarily due to their thinner skulls and the fact that they have a different biological makeup. In addition, they are still growing and developing.
In general, I would try to avoid offering Airpods to children when a safer alternative is available. However, it is unlikely that there will be any immediate safety concerns.
Can You Use Airpods In A Tanning Bed?
Yes, it is generally safe to use Airpods or other wireless headphones while tanning. However, it is recommended that you leave your phone out of the tanning bed.
Also, be sure that you aren’t excessively sweating on or into the earpieces as this can damage them and potentially cause you harm.
If you are going to wear wireless headphones in the tanning bed, just be sure that you are aware of how you’re feeling and if you get any tingling in your ears immediately take out the device.