Electrosmog from hearing aids – is there a risk to your health? Do you also suffer from impaired hearing like millions of Germans? A study by the Institut für Hörtechnik und Audiologie (Institute for Hearing Technology and Audiology, Jade Hochschule, 2017) indicates that around 16 % of adults in Germany suffer from hearing impairment. Every third person over 50 years of age has a hearing loss. Young people are also affected more and more from year to year, thanks to music and work noise. In Germany, about 2.5 million people own a hearing aid. Better qualities, smaller designs, modern look and multiple technical refinements contribute to their enhanced image.
Do electromagnetic radiations occur due to the increasing technical possibilities of the devices? Are there health risks such as headaches and lack of concentration? After all, hearing aids are worn permanently, directly in or on the ear, for around 15 hours a day. In the following, we will give you an overview of hearing aid types, their functionality and the health hazards. Finally, we clarify what you should consider when purchasing a hearing aid.
What types of hearing aids are available?
Source: DIAS GmbH
- Suitable for mild, moderate and severe hearing loss.
- In Germany the most frequently used type.
- Microphone, amplifier and speaker sit in a housing behind the ear. A transparent tube transmits the sound to an ear mold in the outer ear canal.
- Usually more powerful batteries are installed.
- More often than in-ear devices, they include interfaces such as Bluetooth, tele coil or audio input for coupling external devices.
- Open feed: the ear canal remains well ventilated, moisture build-up is reduced. One’s own voice, chewing and swallowing sounds are perceived as normal.
Source: DIAS GmbH
- Suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss.
- Devices are worn in the auricle or ear canal.
- The ear canal must be large enough and shaped accordingly.
- The smaller the device, the less space is left for ventilation. Therefore one’s own body sounds are often perceived as unnatural.
- Devices are inconspicuous and thus popular for cosmetic reasons.
- For eyeglass wearers: the temple does not interfere with the housing behind the ear.
- Spatial hearing is possible because the sound reaches the ear canal directly via the auricle. Wind noise also occurs less strongly than with behind-ear devices.
When, how and why do hearing aids emit radio signals?
Manufacturers are equipping more and more hearing aids with wireless functionality. These differ in terms of electromagnetic radiation: this concerns the type of emission, its timing and intensity. The functions of the device are decisive. Only simple devices from the domains of health service and entry-level models feature no wireless technology. Radiation from hearing aids is transmitted by induction or Bluetooth at various frequencies and bandwidths.
Electromagnetic induction uses a technology for short-range transmission (NFMI = Near Field Magnetic Induction). The frequencies for this range from 3 to 10 MHz. This enables the two hearing aids on the right and left side of the head to communicate with each other for better hearing impressions. Settings made on one device, such as volume and program, are taken over directly by the other. Due to the small distance between the two hearing aids, low power levels of around 1 nW (nanowatt, one billionth of a watt) are required.
Sound can also be transmitted by induction. For this purpose, inductive hearing systems are available in churches, theaters, museums or educational institutions. In these systems, the audio signals are fed as alternating current into a wire, the induction loop. Hearing aids with an integrated telephone coil (T Coil) pick up these radiated alternating magnetic fields. Field strengths of up to several hundred nanotesla (NT) occur around the induction loop in the frequency range from 100 to 5,000 Hz.
For electrosensitive persons, induction can lead to health problems such as headaches. People with pacemakers or defibrillators should contact the manufacturer before using such hearing aids.
According to the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, Bluetooth is “a standard for wireless connection of devices over short distances“. So-called Bluetooth low-energy transmitters (BLE) are often used. Bluetooth uses radio frequencies of the ISM band (ISM = Industrial Scientific Medical) between 2.4000 and 2.4835 GHz (gigahertz). These are pulsed microwaves that are turned on and off 1,600 times per second. There are three transmission power classes allowing for different ranges:
- 3. Class: up to 1 mW (milliwatt) for close-range applications of up to 10 m.
- 2. Class: up to 2.5 mW for applications at the office workplace at ranges of up to 10 m.
- 1. Class: up to 100 mW for ranges of 100 m and more. According to the standard, devices in this class must automatically adjust the current transmission power according to actual requirements.
Bluetooth is used for communication with other devices such as smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, music systems, TV sets or PCs. There is a requirement that Bluetooth must be able to be turned off. However, the more functions are controlled via it, the less often this will be the case. Depending on the application, Bluetooth radiates permanently. Here, radiation intensities are achieved that exceed the guideline values of the EMF guideline of the European Academy for Environmental Medicine (EUROPAEM) from 2016. The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection recommends “generally to minimize the use of Bluetooth in order to keep possible […] health risks low“.
What should you consider when buying a hearing aid?
Before purchasing a hearing aid you should, by all means, check if, how and when these emit wireless signals. Some manufacturers provide information about wireless activity (power, duration, frequency of wireless activity), others hardly at all. It is therefore important to follow these tips:
- Get proper and competent advice! Observe the manufacturer’s instructions. If in doubt, carry out metrological checks.
- If the device works with Bluetooth, only turn it on when you need it. Control as few applications as possible with it.
- If you do not need or do not want to use streaming functions, you should not buy any corresponding hearing aids.
- If you want to avoid possible risks, you should avoid wireless functionality in the hearing aid.
The DIAS GmbH and the Deutscher Schwerhörigenbund e.V. (German Association for the Hard of Hearing) offer additional information and assistance for potential hearing aid users on their Internet websites.
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