Recently one of our hearing aid clients asked me if the radio waves emitted by his wireless hearing aids posed any health risk to him by wearing them daily. Of course, the big question is: Can wearing wireless hearing aids cause cancer?
If you consider that most hearing aids these day are likely wireless (Bluetooth) or wireless capable, this is information that we need to keep up to date on.
This past January I had the opportunity to track down and question the engineers (scientists) who develop wireless hearing aid technology at the Hearing Innovations Expo hosted by Starkey Hearing Technologies.
Following is the information that was shared with me by the engineers. It answered my questions and I hope it answers any questions you might have had about the possibility of risk.
Click on the titles below to reveal more information
Can the radiofrequency energy (RF) from wireless hearing aids cause cancer?
The likelihood of our wireless technology causing cancer is very unlikely. The RF (radio frequency) energy, or power output, of our wireless products, is more than 1000 times less than that of a common cell phone.
The US Food and Drug Administration has posted the following information on their website relative to RF energy.
Whereas high levels of RF can produce health effects (by heating tissue), exposure to low level RF that does not produce heating effects causes no known adverse health effects.The biological effects of radiofrequency energy should not be confused with the effects from other types of electromagnetic energy.
Very high levels of electromagnetic energy, such as is found in X-rays and gamma rays can ionize biological tissues. Ionization is a process where electrons are stripped away from their normal locations in atoms and molecules. It can permanently damage biological tissues including DNA, the genetic material.
The energy levels associated with radiofrequency energy, including both radio waves and microwaves, are not great enough to cause the ionization of atoms and molecules. Therefore, RF energy is a type of non-ionizing radiation. Other types of non-ionizing radiation include visible light, infrared radiation (heat) and other forms of electromagnetic radiation with relatively low frequencies.
The wireless hearing aid intentionally generates radio-frequency (RF) energy in order to communicate with the second wireless hearing aid in a binaural fitting, or to communicate with the wireless programmer during a programming session. However, the amount of RF energy generated by the wireless hearing aid is very low.
The relative amount of RF energy absorbed in the head of a wireless hearing aid user is given by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires devices generating RF energy and used by the general population to have SAR levels no greater than 1.6 watts per kilogram. Starkey has tested the wireless hearing aid to the SAR requirements. The SAR level for the wireless hearing aid is 0.00142 W/kg. This is approximately 1125 times lower than the FCC limit.
Here is information that was provided by Starkey Hearing
Typically, RF power output is, as a general reference (without considering the “per Kilogram” etc. stuff” measured in Watts. It’s easy to get the whole “amps” thing mixed in with power output concerns, but it’s the Watts that give us the best relationship to commonly known specifications on devices that “transmit” as consumers.
To put that in perspective, let’s look at what kind of “Power output” Starkey hearing aid and associated devices have:
Hearing Aids: 2.5 nanoWatt or .0000025 watt
SurLink Media: 20 milliWatt or .02 Watt
SurfLink Remote: 0.5 milliWatt or .0005 Watt
SurfLink Programmer: 1 milliWatt or .001 Watt
As you can see they are all considerably less than ONE (1) Watt and in all cases are actually hundredths (1/100), thousandths (1/1000), or hundred thousandths (1/100000) of ONE watt.
A child’s toy “walkie-talkie” generally speaking, can put out up to 100 milliWatts or .1 Watt.
Typical cell phone power out is 1 (one) watt or less.
The output of Starkey hearing aids and accessories, being extremely conservative in our reference, is over 1000 times less than that of a common cell phone when measured as the FCC does its “per Kgm” measurement. That number is much larger when speaking in general or relative terms (1 Watt vs .0000025 Watt).
Fact: Nearly 50% of Canadians have some degree of hearing loss.
An 8th grade boy in Rochester, New York made an unexpected discovery while working on his school science project this year.
He found that if he took the sticker tab off of the battery 5 minutes before putting it in the hearing aid, the battery lasted an average of 80% longer.
His study has already earned him several honors, including a US Naval Science Award.
Here’s a video from news coverage of the story:
It’s good news for people who wear hearing aids. The most common size hearing aid batteries (size 312) typically last about 5 – 7 days. That’s a whole 4 – 6 days longer life that you may be able to get from your hearing aid batteries.
(I’ll be running some tests in my office to discover whether or not it works. If you’re on our email list, we’ll let you know about the results once concluded.)
“So, why didn’t we know about this until now?”, you might ask.
Hearing aid battery manufacturers have always recommended removing the stick tab 1 minute before employing the battery in the hearing aid.
I think most audiologists are aware of this and pass on the suggestion to patients.
But, the 8th grader revealed through careful testing that 5 minutes is the optimal amount of time to get the most life out of a battery.
It been deemed the “5 Minute Rule”.
Maybe hearing aid battery manufacturers have never tested the optimal time window.
Maybe they have and they didn’t want us to know because, hey – they just might sell more batteries if they burn out faster.
Only they know for sure.
Here’s a video from Rayovac (hearing aid battery manufacturer) that explains how hearing aid batteries work:
Do you need help with your hearing aids?
We can help. Call us at 604-528-8884
Have you seen our instructional videos for hearing aid batteries?
I first came across this video a couple of years ago.
Thought it would be nice to share it with folks.
I’d love to hear your comments on this.
Share them below the video.
#1 – Ear Candling
I remember when I was a little younger and a lot more adventurous.
A friend of mine, who had recently returned from a trip to India, brought over some sweet honey smelling candles for removing earwax.
Let the fun begin…
We would take turns lying on our side with one of these conical “Ear Candling” candles stuffed in our ear and surrounded the bottom with aluminum foil.
Then, we’d light the top of the candle and wait for it to ‘magically’ draw wax out of our ears.
When the candle was burned up we’d take it out and marvel at the gobs of (what appeared to be) earwax that accumulated at the bottom.
We were amazed…
Years later, I entered the hearing healthcare industry and learned how dangerous this procedure can be.
To this day I still have clients ask me my opinion on Ear Candling.
My advice?: DON’T DO IT!
Here are 3 reasons why:
- Having a flame burning so close to your hair is generally a bad idea – for obvious reasons…
- It does NOT pull wax out of your ears. It’s simply not physically possible. And the wax that appears after the procedure is not ear wax. It’s wax, of course, but just candle wax.
- If you get a hot piece of candle wax spattering into your ear, it can actually burn hole into your eardrum and cause serious health problems (like infection) and permanent hearing loss.
Here’s a video of Dr. Christopher Change, E.N.T. running a little experiment on the subject.
So that’s the first worst way to clean your ears.
#2 – The Wax Vac
The second, and equally silly method is a revolutionary new product that took the AsSeenOnTV world by storm.
Yup, it’s the famous “Wax Vac”. And, in my opinion it’s a total crock. I’ve personally tried it and it just doesn’t work.
I don’t think anyone can do serious harm with the Wax Vac, but it IS pretty noisy (though it’s billed as being quiet) and if you’re going to keep it running in your ear long enough for it do remove any wax – you might be getting some hearing damage from noise exposure.
As far as I can tell, they’re still selling like hotcakes! It might make a good “gag” gift for someone but that’s about the only value you might get from it.
What’s the 3rd worst way to clean your ears?
If you guessed the good ol’ Q-Tip, you’re right!
#3 – Q-Tips
I’m sure we’ve all heard from our doctor that you should never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.
That’s good advice.
No matter how skilled you are, you are probably going to push any excessive ear wax deeper into your ear with a Q-Tip. Over time you’ll end up compacting it into a nice hard, deep plug of wax that’ll have to be removed by a professional.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that you can end up puncturing your eardrum if you go in too far with it.
A lot of people tell me they just use it at the entrance of the ear canal to remove superficial wax or to dry their ear after a shower. That’s reasonable and I doubt you’d do any harm this way.
I know there are a lot people who get wax out of their ears just fine with Q-Tips but they probably don’t have an excess of wax built up.
If a client tells me they have been using Q-Tips for years without incident (and their ear canal is clear and healthy) I’d say they are a responsible user of Q-Tips.
So, if you use them responsibly, I’d say, “keep doing what you’re doing – just be careful!”
The Safe Way to Get the Wax Out of Your Ears
How can you remove ear wax safely?
Simple: Consult your doctor or hearing professional.
We have the advantage of being able to look into your ear (I’m guessing you can’t) and assess the best way to remove it. It’s what we do. Let us do it for you.
If you think you might have a wax build up, give us a call at our office: 604-528-8884.
Take advantage of our Free 30-Minute Consultation and let us have a look at your ear so we can advise the best course of action.
To your health!
– Jamie Larsen