Can Sleeping With Apple AirPods Cause Cancer? (Doctor’s Verdict)

Dr-Babar-Naeem.
  • This article was written by Dr. Babar Naeem (MBBS, MRCPCH) – a licensed and practicing medical doctor – to ensure maximum factual accuracy and unique content.

There is a lot of confusion in regards to understanding if devices like Apple AirPods can cause cancer or not.

This might be worrying if you tend to sleep with your AirPods in so that you can listen to music and relax.

So can sleeping in Apple AirPods cause cancer or not?

According to scientific studies, there is no evidence that sleeping in Apple AirPods will cause cancer. Regular, long-term use of Apple AirPods is unlikely to cause cancer because the radiation dose and frequency are too low, and the radiation is non-ionizing.

But what if you are still concerned about cancer and the radiation being emitted from your Apple AirPods?

To use your AirPods safely at night, consider using just one AirPod to cut the radiation exposure by 50% – or replace the AirPods with the speakerphone function in order to create distance from the radiation source.

In the rest of this article, I have used my professional medical knowledge in conjunction with my access to scientific literature to prove that AirPods are highly unlikely to cause cancer.

Related: find out if there are any other dangers of sleeping with Airpods in here.

7 Reasons Why Apple AirPods Likely Won’t Cause Cancer

In my professional medical opinion and according to research, exposure to the low-frequency electromagnetic radiation (EMF) emitted by your AirPods is not linked to an increased risk of developing cancer because the EMF radiation is non-ionizing and too weak to cause DNA damage.

According to a survey, about 95% of Americans use cellphones, and the level of radiation in AirPods is 10 to 400 times less than that released by cell phones [1].

The Interphone study is one of the largest epidemiological studies and was conducted in 13 countries and it concluded that the use of electronic devices is not linked to brain tumors in adults [2].

I have compiled a list of reasons, backed by high-quality evidence, to support this outcome.

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1: The Dose of Radiation is Too Low

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is a unit used to measure the amount of radiation absorbed by the body from a device.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows any device that emits less than 1.6 W/Kg (Watt per kilogram of body weight).

So any device that emits radiofrequency radiation below this range is safe for the human body [3].

The SAR for Apple AirPods is 0.466 Watts per kg for the right ear and 0.510 for the left ear – which is well within the advocated safety level.

Public Health England started the wi-fi project, in which they studied all the available scientific data, and issued comprehensive guidelines.

They concluded that there is no consistent evidence that radiofrequency from wireless devices is associated with adverse health effects.

The level of radiation is within international guidelines, and there is no reason to discontinue the use of wireless equipment [4].

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2: The Type of Radiation is Non-Ionizing

There are two main types of radiation that are commonly encountered.

X-rays and gamma rays are examples of ionizing radiation that have the capability to produce molecular changes in the biological tissue that leads to cancer.

In contrast:

The radiofrequency radiation that’s emitted by Apple AirPods and other wireless devices is non-ionizing and cannot cause cancer because the energy levels are not strong enough to damage the genetic material in the body. 

As the risk of cancer associated with this radiation is minimal, radiofrequency radiation used in wireless devices is considered safe for humans.

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3: The Frequency of the Radiation is Too Low

High-frequency electromagnetic radiation damages DNA, initiating the development of cancer.

However, the radiation used in AirPods is of a very low frequency, and cannot induce cell or DNA damage.

Studies performed on animals fail to find a mechanism of action by which radiofrequency radiation can cause cancer [5].

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4: Other Devices Emit Higher Levels of Radiation and Are Safe

AirPods are not the only source of radiofrequency radiation.

There are many natural and human-made sources of radiofrequency radiation, such as cell phones, smart meters, tablets, wi-fi devices, power lines, antennas, etc.

The level of radiation in most of these is much higher than in AirPods and many of them are still safe.

So if we were too concerned about radiation exposure, we would have to discontinue almost every digital appliance.

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5: Long Term Use of AirPods is Not Carcinogenic

Some advocate that the prolonged use of AirPods increases the user’s chances of getting cancer, due to cumulative damage.

Dr Leeka Kheifets studied this and found that acute or chronic exposure to radiofrequency radiation doesn’t cause chromosome mutation [6].

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6: No Increase in Incidence of Cancer in Recent Years

One very good way to look at the association between low-frequency radiation and AirPods is to look at cancer incidence rates before and after the popularity of wireless devices.

As almost every wireless device uses the same radiofrequency technology, cancer incidence should increase with their use.

However, research has been done to look for a change in cancer incidence and found that no reported increase has occurred.

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7: Recommendations from Expert Organizations Are Reassuring

When the required clear scientific evidence is not available to answer a question, we should rely upon the words of experts.

Many expert organizations have issued guidelines about radiofrequency radiation.

Let’s have a look at a few of them.

CDC

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there is no clear link between exposure to radiofrequency radiation and cancer incidence.

The CDC also noted that there are numerous benefits to wireless devices, while the adverse effects are yet to be documented.

The CDC advises the use of the speakerphone function, in order to reduce exposure to radiofrequency radiation [7].

FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration(FDA) stated that there is no credible or consistent scientific evidence available that health problems are caused by exposure to radiofrequency radiation emitted by cellphones and other devices.

The current FCC limit on the level of radiofrequency energy is acceptable with regard to cancer.

SEER and NCI

The National Cancer Institute and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Result (SEER) maintain data at the national institute for health (NIH).

The NCI has reported no widespread increase in the incidence of cancer in the last three decades, despite the massive increase in exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

In fact, cancer incidence has dropped from 6.0 per 100,000 to 5.9 per 100,000 in the past 16 years.

The NCI also stated that the rate of tumors dropped 0.2% per year from 1987 to 2016.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-HHS) conducted studies that took more than ten years to complete, and cost $30 Million.

NTP and FDA Recommendations

These are the most comprehensive studies to date.

They found that brain and heart tumor risk in rats was increased after exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

This increased incidence was due to DNA damage that initiated cancer formation.

However, the whole body was exposed to radiation, and the duration of the exposure was much higher than with cell phones. 

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) also stated that these findings could not be applied to humans for two reasons – our exposure levels from electronic devices is low, and the whole body is not exposed to the radiation [8].

However, the findings of these studies cannot be ignored, and potential health risks should be kept in mind while using AirPods and other wireless devices.

The FDA suggested these tips for reducing radiation exposure.

  • Use a speaker set or headset to create a distance between the device and the body.
  • Reduce your screen time.

How to Use AirPods Safely for Sleep

Although there is no definitive evidence available to support the association of AirPod use with cancer, this doesn’t mean that there is zero risk when using electronic devices.

Future research may find new evidence of harmful effects that is unknown today.

Moreover, prevention is always better than looking for a cure.

Therefore, I always recommend taking precautionary measures to minimize your exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

I have compiled a list of recommendations you can follow when using AirPods for sleep.

1: Minimize the Time Spent Using AirPods

If you are concerned about the radiation being emitted from your AirPods then the best solution is to reduce the time spent using them because the effects of the low-frequency EMFs are directly dependent on the dose of the radiation.

More time spent using electronic devices means more radiation dosage.

That is why the FCC recommends reducing the amount of time we spend using wireless devices.

It may be difficult for some people to sleep without their AirPods because they are very beneficial for dampening environmental noise.

But care should be taken to use AirPods only when required.

Other sleep hygiene measures can reduce your dependency on AirPods.

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2: Use Other Devices Like Speakers to Create Distance

The amount of radiation that the human body absorbs after exposure to a source is measured by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). 

The SAR decreases rapidly as the distance is increased between the source of the radiation and the body.

When a person holds the device near the ear, the highest radiation dose is delivered to the head.

If you keep your cellphones and other devices at a maximum possible distance, the amount of radiation will be decreased.

The SAR value of various phones can be found through the FCC Id number site [9].

3: Use the Speakerphone Function to Dampen Noise

The speakerphone function can be used to block out background noise without using AirPods.

This is a very effective strategy that performs the same function and has a minimal SAR value.

A wired headset or earpiece can also be used for the same purpose.

Although they transmit a small amount of radiation through the wire, it is far less than from the source [3].

Earplugs are another simple solution to block out noise that is devoid of radiation.

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4: Remove Unnecessary EMF Radiating Devices

To minimize the radiation, you should remove all unnecessary devices from your bedroom, like televisions, laptops, routers, tablets, and other electronic devices.

If an unnecessary gadget cannot be removed, you should switch it off at bedtime.

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5: Use Your Bedroom Only for Sleep

I have always stressed that the bedroom should only be used for sleep because this primes your brain and body to relax when you enter the room.

If you want to work on your laptop or watch a movie, you should not do it in your bed.

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6: Lower the Volume While Sleeping

If the volume of your music is high, you will have a higher chance of sleep disturbances, due to the many troughs and peaks in the sound.

High volume increases the heart rate and stimulates the nervous system.

This will trigger the release of stress hormones that are associated with poor quality of sleep.

So the best solution is to keep the volume of your AirPods low while sleeping for a relaxation effect.

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7: Don’t Wear AirPods During the Day

If you have tried all these options, and you cannot decrease your use of AirPods at night, the best option would be to avoid using them during the day.

You can text instead of talking over AirPods, or use the speakerphone.

The idea is to decrease the total dose of radiofrequency radiation you receive in each 24-hour day.

This will also provide relaxation to your ear canal, and allow excess ear wax to be removed naturally.

Incidence of hearing loss and ear infections will also decrease when decreasing AirPods use.

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8: Keep Your AirPods Within Standard Operating Temperature

Apple recommends temperatures between 32 and 95°F for AirPods use [10].

Using AirPods outside of this range can damage the battery, or cause the device to turn off.

Moreover, increased temperatures have been proposed as one of the underlying causes of many adverse health effects.

Leaving your AirPods in the car, or exposing them to direct sunlight, can induce chemical changes in the device that are harmful to the human body.

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9: Use an AirPod in One Ear Only

If you are wearing AirPods in both ears, it may become uncomfortable for you to sleep on your side.

Sleeping on your side can also dislodge the AirPods from your ears.

So I always suggest that my clients use an AirPod in one ear only, while sleeping.

This simple tip offers many benefits:

  • It will decrease the amount of radiation exposure by 50%.
  • You will be able to sleep on one side without the risk of dislodgement of the AirPod.
  • You can alternate your ears to provide relaxation to your auditory canal.

10: Regularly Clean Your Earbuds

Earwax, debris, and dirt can build up on the earbud over time and create many problems.

First of all, it will reduce the volume output and sound quality.

Blockage of wax excretion, ear infections, and hearing loss can also occur.

So it is always a good idea to clean your earbuds once in a while.

Apple and Samsung recommend avoiding alcohol and other liquids when cleaning.

The best option is to use a dry cotton swab, or a soft, clean toothbrush.

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Conclusion: Sleeping In Airpods Probably Won’t Cause Cancer

There is no credible scientific evidence available to support the association of increased cancer risk with Apple AirPods.

However, if you are still concerned, precautions should be taken to decrease exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

Minimizing time spent using AirPods, decreasing volume, using an AirPod in one ear at a time, and using alternative strategies to dampen environmental noise, are recommended tips for avoiding the harmful effects of RF radiation.

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Sources and References

1: Wall S, Wang Z-M, Kendig T, Dobraca D, Lipsett M. Real-world cell phone radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposures. Environ Res [Internet]. 2019;171:581–92. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118305024

2: J. SA, Maria F, C. GA, Leeka K, A. SD, null  null. Mobile Phones, Brain Tumors, and the Interphone Study: Where Are We Now? Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. 2011 Nov 1;119(11):1534–8. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1103693

3: Concerns, Wireless Devices, and Health [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Dec 27]. Available from: https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/wireless-devices-and-health-concerns

4: Wi-fi radio waves and health [Internet]. Public Health England. 2013. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wireless-networks-wi-fi-radio-waves-and-health/wi-fi-radio-waves-and-health

5: Lagroye I, Percherancier Y, Juutilainen J, De Gannes FP, Veyret B. ELF magnetic fields: Animal studies, mechanisms of action. Prog Biophys Mol Biol [Internet]. 2011;107(3):369–73. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0079610711001027

6: Kheifets DLI. EMF & CANCER: EPIDEMIOLOGIC EVIDENCE TO DATE [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 27]. Available from: https://www.who.int/peh-emf/meetings/southkorea/en/Leeka_Kheifets.pdf

7: Radiation in Everyday Objects. Centers Dis Control Prev [Internet]. 2014; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/cell_phones._FAQ.html

8: Cellphone Radio Frequency Radiation Studies [Internet]. National Toxicology program. 2020 [cited 2021 Dec 27]. Available from: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/cell_phone_radiofrequency_radiation_studies_508.pdf

9: Cell Phones and Cancer Risk [Internet]. National cancer institute. [cited 2121 Dec 27]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet#what-can-cell-phone-users-do-to-reduce-their-exposure-to-radiofrequency-radiation

10: Keeping AirPods within acceptable operating temperatures [Internet]. Apple. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 28]. Available from: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211884

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this website offers medical advice – always consult with a medical professional for the best guidance.

Image Attribution and Licensing

Main image: ‘Closeup on young teenage girl is wearing AirPods in her ear’ by twenty20photos (used with permission and commercially licensed through Envato Elements).