Fact-check: Are AirPods microwaving your brain?

Fact-check: Are AirPods microwaving your brain?

A viral Instagram post has claimed that AirPods, Apple’s popular wireless earpieces, are essentially microwaving your brain. However, fact-checkers have ruled this claim as false. While there are concerns circulating on social media about the potential dangers of AirPods emitting high levels of radiation near the brain, experts have found no evidence to support these claims.

The Instagram post features a video where a man explains why he chooses to wear corded headphones instead of AirPods. He argues that AirPods emit extremely high levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that release radiation, which can be harmful when absorbed by the brain. To back up his case, he cites a 2019 article that warns of the cancer risk posed by EMF exposure from wireless devices, but the article does not mention AirPods specifically.

Experts have debunked these claims by pointing out that AirPods emit levels of radiation that are well below government-established limits and significantly lower than those emitted by cellphones. Kenneth Foster, a professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, states that the video’s claim is inconsistent with the views of health agencies. He explains that while electromagnetic fields are a combination of electric and magnetic fields produced by electricity, the nonionizing EMFs emitted by wireless devices such as AirPods are considered harmless.

Understanding Electromagnetic Fields

According to the National Cancer Institute, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are a combination of electric and magnetic fields of energy, or radiation, that are produced by electricity. These fields can be categorized as either high-frequency EMFs (ionizing) or low-to-mid frequency EMFs (nonionizing).

Wireless devices like Bluetooth devices, wireless headphones, laptops, and cellphones emit nonionizing EMFs as radiofrequency radiation (RF). While prolonged exposure to ionizing EMFs can potentially harm humans, low-level EMFs, such as those emitted by AirPods, are generally considered to be harmless, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services.

Expert Opinions and Scientific Consensus

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that scientific consensus shows that nonionizing radiation, including RF radiation emitted by wireless devices, is not a carcinogen. As long as the exposure remains at or below the radio frequency exposure limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nonionizing radiation has not been shown to cause any harm to people.

Health agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have conducted in-depth reviews of the scientific literature and have not found any confirmed health consequences from exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields. However, some knowledge gaps about potential biological effects still exist, warranting further research.

While there have been studies suggesting a potential link between cellphone radiation and cancer in rats, these studies involved exposing the animals to radiofrequency radiation at much higher levels than the limits set for human exposure. Therefore, it is difficult to extrapolate these risks to humans.

The American Cancer Society acknowledges that Bluetooth earpieces like AirPods emit radiofrequency radiation, and it states that “possible health effects from these devices cannot be ruled out completely at this time.” However, it also notes that corded earphones emit virtually no RF waves and could be an alternative for individuals wishing to limit their exposure to this type of radiation.

Safety Limits and Apple’s Compliance

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established guidelines on radiofrequency radiation exposure. All wireless devices sold in the U.S. must meet specific absorption rate (SAR) limits, which measure the rate at which RF energy is absorbed by the body. The allowable limit from wireless devices is set at 1.6 watts per kilogram, averaged over 1 gram of body tissue.

The FCC emphasizes that there is no evidence to suggest any health risks from using wireless devices. However, for concerned users, it points out that the small amount of RF energy released by wireless earpieces like AirPods is significantly lower than that emitted by cellphones, thereby reducing total exposure to a person’s head.

Apple, the manufacturer of AirPods, has stated that its products meet all applicable radio frequency exposure guidelines and limits. In fact, Apple claims that AirPods are more than two times below the applicable limits for radio frequency exposure. FCC reports from 2021 also support Apple’s assertion about the safety of AirPods.

Fact-check Ruling

Based on the evidence and expert opinions, the claim that AirPods are essentially microwaving your brain is false. There is no scientific evidence linking the low-level electromagnetic fields emitted by AirPods or similar wireless devices to cancer or other health problems in humans. While some uncertainties exist, health agencies have repeatedly reviewed the scientific literature and found no clear evidence of hazards from radiofrequency exposures from cellphones or AirPods.