Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tinnitus and cell phones: the role of electromagnetic radiofrequency radiation

Tinnitus and cell phones: the role of electromagnetic radiofrequency radiation

Luisa Nascimento Medeiros, Tanit Ganz Sanchez. Tinnitus and cell phones: the role of electromagnetic radiofrequency radiation. Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology. Available online 21 September 2015.


Tinnitus is a multifactorial condition and its prevalence has increased on the past decades. The worldwide progressive increase of the use of cell phones has exposed the peripheral auditory pathways to a higher dose of electromagnetic radiofrequency radiation (EMRFR). Some tinnitus patients report that the abusive use of mobiles, especially when repeated in the same ear, might worsen ipsilateral tinnitus.

The aim of this study was to evaluate the available evidence about the possible causal association between tinnitus and exposure to electromagnetic waves.

A literature review was performed searching for the following keywords: tinnitus, electromagnetic field, mobile phones, radio frequency, and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. We selected 165 articles that were considered clinically relevant in at least one of the subjects.

EMRFR can penetrate exposed tissues and safety exposure levels have been established. These waves provoke proved thermogenic effects and potential biological and genotoxic effects. Some individuals are more sensitive to electromagnetic exposure (electrosensitivity), and thus, present earlier symptoms. There may be a common pathophysiology between this electrosensitivity and tinnitus.

Tinnitus is characterized by sound perception in the absence of an external source.1 Its prevalence has been increasing considerably in epidemiological studies, thus several international scientific events and publications have been devoted to explore this subject. Among adults from the United States, Shargorodsky2 found a prevalence of 25.3% for tinnitus, as opposed to 15% for the same population, published 15 years previously (National Institutes of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 1995).
The present review of the literature was purposely focused on tinnitus and has found interesting arguments about the possible relationship between this symptom and EMRFR. However, due to multiple neuronal mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of each one, whether there is a causal association between EMH and tinnitus, whether EMH is a predisposing factor for the worsening of tinnitus, or whether both share a similar pathophysiology is still under discussion.17 Prospective cohort studies will define more precisely if the risk of onset of tinnitus is higher in cell phone users or those with other sources of radio frequency exposure.

In the present study, although the authors found little statistically significant evidence of the influence of EMRFR on tinnitus, the association between these conditions should not be neglected, either.

The peripheral auditory pathway has the ability to capture sound waves from the environment and transmit them actively to the cortex. Since EMRFR also presents diverse frequencies (starting at 3 kHz) and amplitudes, similar to that which occurs with sound waves, it is plausible to accept that certain frequencies and amplitudes of EMRFR can be captured by the peripheral auditory system. 

This study collected evidence for the association between exposure to EMRFR and tinnitus in some patients, particularly those suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. While it is not fully confirmed, the authors consider it appropriate to direct more attention to cell phone use in the diagnostic investigation of patients with hearing disorders, especially tinnitus.


Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Director
Center for Family and Community Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Electromagnetic Radiation Safety

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