What is Cell Phone Radiation?

Adam Hill

Cell phone radiation refers to radiation in the form of electromagnetic waves that is emitted from mobile phones. This type of radiation takes the form of radio waves that are near the microwave range. The amount of radiation that a given cell phone will emit depends on the exact frequency of the radiation, as well as whether the device is using an analog signal or a digital one. There has been speculation that large amounts of cell phone radiation could be hazardous to the user's health, but there are no conclusive scientific findings on the subject.

Frequent cell phone users should utilize a headset to reduce radiation exposure.
Frequent cell phone users should utilize a headset to reduce radiation exposure.

There is a degree of controversy surrounding the implications of cell phone radiation, and what it means to our health. Some research has suggested that the type of radio frequencies used by cell phones can speed up the progression of cancer in laboratory test animals, but it has proven difficult to replicate these results. It is known that radiation from cell phones can affect pacemakers, but the main concern is related to the fact that most cell phone users hold the phone against their ear. If significant levels of radiation enter the tissues of the head in this way over time, some worry that this can increase the likelihood of brain tumors and related conditions.

There are no conclusive scientific findings on the hazards of cell phone radiation.
There are no conclusive scientific findings on the hazards of cell phone radiation.

When we think of harmful radiation, things like X-rays or gamma rays usually come to mind, but these types of radiation are different from mobile phone radiation in important ways. Radiation on the ultraviolet side of visible light, like those types just mentioned, has a wavelength that is short enough to alter some of the chemical properties of the objects it interacts with. It is referred to as ionizing radiation, for this reason. Non-ionizing radiation, which includes visible light, microwaves and radio waves, is typically regarded as harmless. Large amounts of it can produce a heating effect, like in a microwave oven, but no short-term damage has been linked to exposure to non-ionizing radiation.

Keeping phone calls short may reduce radiation exposure.
Keeping phone calls short may reduce radiation exposure.

Since cell phone radiation is non-ionizing, it is generally seen as being harmless in the short term. The question is whether long-term exposure poses any risk. Whether or not it does is unknown, but as cell phone usage continues to expand worldwide, more information will likely become available regarding this issue.

Ionizing radiation has the potential to cause birth defects in unborn children.
Ionizing radiation has the potential to cause birth defects in unborn children.

The exact source of radiation in a cell phone is from the transmitter, a device located near the antenna that converts audio data into electromagnetic waves. The amount of radiation a cell phone can emit is limited by legal restrictions in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Additionally, the average radiation levels of most mobile phones are available to the public, courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S.

Radiation from X-rays is different from mobile phone radiation.
Radiation from X-rays is different from mobile phone radiation.

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Discussion Comments

anon304763

I'm visiting in the Philippines, and they tell the kids that radiation is higher when phone battery is on the last bar. Is this true?

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