With over five billion unique mobile phone users in the world, the possible health effects of these gadgets are of great concern among the general public. Of late, the issue has received a lot of media coverage. As so many people use mobile phones, any associated health risks may cause significant public health problems. However, the number of mobile devices worldwide in 2020 stood at 14.02 billion, with forecasts suggesting this is likely to rise to 14.91 billion by 2021 (Statista, 2020). Radiofrequency (RF) radiation is utilised for the communication between mobile phones and base stations. The thermal effect of high RF radiation raises body temperature. People have concerns that mobile phones emitting low levels of RF radiation may lead to health problems such as headaches or brain tumours.
Risks The development of mobile communications has been rapid. First-generation mobile phones during the 1980s used analogue technology that allowed the transmission of sound only. In 1991, digital transmission and the global system for mobile communication started and data and image transmission became possible. Additional services such as fax, e-mail, and internet access are available with the third-generation mobile phones currently in the market. Waves in the RF (analogue) and microwave parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are used for the signals transmitted and received by both analogue and digital mobile phones. Non-ionising radiation, radiofrequency, has wavelengths that range from 3 kHz to 300 MHz, and microwaves range from 300 MHz to 300 GHz. Mobile phones and telecommunication networks use frequencies that range from 900 MHz to 1.8 GHz and up to 2.1 GHz. However, the wavelength of the different types of mobile phones varies. This applies to both mobile phones which receive calls and their base stations that send calls. The radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation frequency ranges from 30 kilohertz (30 kHz, or 30,000 Hz) to 300 gigahertz (300 GHz, or 300 billion Hz). The telecommunications such as cell phones, televisions, and radio transmissions use electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequency range. The energy from any device that emits radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is absorbed by the human body. The radiation exposure intensity during a call depends on several factors, including the connection quality and the specific absorption rate [(SAR), expressed in W/kg] of the mobile phone. If the connection quality is good, less radiation is emitted and the lower the SAR of the device, the lower the radiation absorbed by the body. The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection has recommended a 2 W/kg exposure limit. There have been several clinical complaints related to the use of mobile phones that are reported in the scientific literatures. Those symptoms are headache, fatigue, and sleep disorders, loss of memory, dizziness, and feelings of heat or tingling in the auricular (or auditory) area or in the head, vertigo, deafness, and blurred vision. With the limited numbers of studies, however, their results provide no evidence of an association between these symptoms and the use of mobile phones. It is important, however, that these are general, non-specific symptoms that may be induced by a wide range of causes. X-rays emit ionising radiation which is known to increase the risk of cancer. The potential health effects of non-ionising radiation from radar, microwave ovens, cell phones, and other sources have been studied and there is, however, currently no consistent evidence that non-ionising radiation increases cancer risk in humans. Mobile phone use can have other indirect health effects on humans. There have been reports that RF radiation to interfere with medical electronic equipment if the equipment is vulnerable to the field. Numerous studies have shown that using a mobile phone while driving greatly increases the risk of traffic accidents. Nepal has prohibited talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving. We carry smartphones wherever we go. We carry it at school, work, and while out shopping and running errands. Some people even carry their smartphones into the bathroom which is not a smart act. Smartphones harbour viruses and bacteria and exposure of which might result in bacterial or viral infection. Looking down continuously at the smartphone screen for a long time while texting and browsing causes strain to the neck muscles and may lead to knots or spasms. This may cause nerve pain that radiates to the back, shoulders, or down the arms. Shorter wavelength blue light emitted by smartphones, lights, and computer, tablet, and TV screens cause several health effects. Exposure to the shorter wavelength blue light disrupts circadian rhythms. Exposure to blue light after dark may interfere with sleep. Blue light may contribute to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions.
Prevention Smartphones may interfere in the functions of medical devices like pacemakers and implantable defibrillators. The interference may make the devices malfunction. Some types of hearing aids are affected by cell phones. It is advised that mobile phones should be turned off in hospital buildings owing to their ability to interfere with hospital electronic equipment. Our exposure to RF radiation can be greatly reduced by choosing a mobile phone model that has a low SAR, using a landline phone whenever possible, keeping mobile phone calls as short as needed, and using only when the signal is strong, sending text messages instead, using a hands-free, and not carrying mobile phone close to the body when it is switched on. Another important point is never to use a mobile phone while driving. It is also recommended to minimise exposure to unnecessary light, including smartphone screens, during the night.
(Professor Lohani is the Founder and Academic Director at Nobel College. email@example.com)