Are mobile phones capable of ‘nuking’ your ears?

Useful info: WHO states that to date, no harmful health effects have been established from mobile phone usage.

PETALING JAYA: Some people may feel earache when using their mobile phones, but such cases are uncommon, says physician Dr Mohammad Shazli Abdul Rahman.

“Mobile phones emit radio, electromagnetic and thermal waves. Research published in journals indicate that radio and electromagnetic waves can trigger responses from the nerves in the ears, face and scalp during use, causing dysesthesia, an unpleasant nerve pain,” said Dr Mohammad Shazli.

“This occurs only in certain people who are hypersensitive to the waves. The trigeminal nerve, which is distributed near the cheek and ear, is mostly affected, which translates to pain.”

Another possibility is thermal waves, which is heat that dissipates into the inner ear, affecting the eardrums and the fluids in the cochlear, he said.

Dr Mohammad Shazli: ‘I’ve only seen a handful of patients complaining of ear pain from mobile phone use.’
Dr Mohammad Shazli: ‘I’ve only seen a handful of patients complaining of ear pain from mobile phone use.’

“This could also lead to pain, and can be worsened if the eustachian tube connecting the sinuses to the inner ear is blocked by mucous due to the common cold or flu,” said Dr Mohammad Shazli.

“But generally, these cases are uncommon. I’ve only seen a handful of patients complaining of pain from mobile phones, as not many are hypersensitive to electromagnetic and radio waves.”

University Malaya Faculty of Medicine professor of Medical Physics Dr Ng Kwan-Hoong said that although mobile phones are a source of radiation, they aren’t detrimental to our general health.

“Radiowaves carry a certain amount of energy, or radiation, but the level is very low to cause any hazard to human health. There is no established clinically validated symptoms of mobile phone radiation effects, and so far there are also no proven cases that link mobile phone radiation to illness or even death,” said Prof Ng.

The World Health Organization (WHO), on its website, states that to date no harmful health effects have been established as caused by the usage of mobile phones.

A negligible short-term effect, it states, is the temperature rise in the brain or other organs caused from absorbing radiowaves.

Prof Ng: ‘Although mobile phones are a source of radiation, they aren’t detrimental to our general health.’
Prof Ng: ‘Although mobile phones are a source of radiation, they aren’t detrimental to our general health.’

“Sometimes, users feel the heat, likely because the phone is in close contact to the external ear, leading to increase in skin temperature,” said Prof Ng.

WHO also states that the user’s exposure to radiation reduces when the distance from the device increases.

Therefore, a person using a mobile phone 30cm to 40cm away from their body when texting, surfing the Internet or using a handsfree device will have much lower exposure to the radiowaves compared to those who hold the device against their head.

Radiofrequency exposure limits for mobile phone users are given in terms of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) – the rate of radio frequency energy absorption per unit mass of the body.

The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection recommends that the value for localised SAR in the head be limited to 2W/kg, a number heeded by most, if not all, phone makers.

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shows that Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has been tested with a SAR value of 0.34W/kg, while the Huawei P10 comes in at 0.96 W/kg and the iPhone X at 1.09 W/kg.

WHO states that the exposure to mobile phone radiation can be reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. It also advises users to use their phones in areas with good reception as it allows the phone to transmit at a reduced power.

“Utilise earphones or the speaker when using the phone, and also don’t use the phone while it’s charging as the waves are amplified,” advised Dr Mohammad Shazli.

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