Household radiation: Something else you don’t need to worry about  

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

Sarah wrote:

I’m interested in your thoughts on radiation exposure and what is safe/dangerous for young children. My kids love playing games or watching movies on my phone or on the iPad but I wonder about radiation exposure/WiFi. I also recently read something about baby video monitors emitting strong radiation and that it’s like placing your kid next to a microwave and now I’m nervous since there is a camera above my daughter’s crib and my son’s bed. Hoping you can alleviate some fears!

If it’s fear alleviation you want, you’ve come to the right place! With all of the click-bait craziness out there, I’ve been tempted to rename this blog “Things you don’t need to worry about” or “Parenting without fear.” The radiation examples from are completely, unequivocally, and definitely safe. Don’t let any internet fear-mongers make you worry.

Radiation is a scary word. We grew up with stories of huge monsters attacking Tokyo and mild Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk. Mushroom clouds, Chernobyl, Fukushima – there is some serious power, here, and the thought of it affecting our children is chilling.

But there is a huge difference between the kind of radiation that created Godzilla and the radiation from these electronic devices. Almost all of the “radiation” in your home is ordinary, non-ionizing radiation. You’re most familiar with this as “light”. Yes, light can harm you – too much sunlight, and you’ll get a sunburn. But it’s easy to protect yourself from this kind of radiation with a thin layer of clothing or a sunscreen. Non-ionizing radiation can only harm you via a mechanism called “heat”, and if your skin is not heating up, it’s entirely harmless.

Sarah mentioned a few examples. Ipads and phones make radiation from two sources. Their screens are based on LED technology, creating light. That’s not going to hurt anyone, unless you’re staring at a screen when you walk over an open manhole or while driving your car. (These risks are about a zillion times as high as any risk from radiation from these devices.) They also broadcast in the Wi-Fi band, similar to radio waves, which are just another wavelength along the same spectrum as light. They’re non-ionizing, and can’t hurt your body unless they’re at a very intense, high energy level.

Speaking of intense, high-energy radiation—that’s how microwave ovens work. The energy they emit is also non-ionizing radiation, and it’s on a frequency that overlaps with the Wi-Fi band. But it’s concentrated and intense and focused right on your food. Wi-Fi transmitters use far less energy spread over a very wide area, and don’t heat anything up. Comparing energy from a microwave to energy from a Wi-Fi router is like comparing the light you’re sitting in from the bulb on the ceiling to the light you’re sitting under outside on the beach. Unless you’re worried about a sunburn indoors, don’t worry about microwave energy from your Wi-Fi router or radio wave energy from a baby monitor.

More:

Scary rays from the sky

Protect yourself from CT scans and cancer

Pat down, or body scan: The safer airport choice

 

Bruce Banner, you look different somehow. Is that a new shirt?

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4 Comments on “Household radiation: Something else you don’t need to worry about  ”

  1. Mary Ann Kirby Says:

    As an experienced R.N. of 50 years working with a Developmental pediatrician-we have seen children who are susceptible having seizures when near the Router for Wi-Fi source. The seizures stopped when it was removed from home!!!! Something to consider for the thin skull of kids developing brain.

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  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Mary Ann, that just doesn’t make any sense. There is not even a speculative mechanism for Wi-Fi or any other EM radiation to trigger seizures. You’d have to re-write entire physics books and our understanding of the universe to make that work.

    Like

  3. wzrd1 Says:

    There are very real considerations for radiation exposure that could result in cancer.
    Beyond working in a field where one is routinely exposed to radioisotopes, there is one area of mild concern.
    Radon accumulated in basements, courtesy of a large granite bedrock formation.
    The real concern isn’t Radon, it’s a radioisotope that has affinity to human tissues.
    That said, a vent would remove it, a vent with a fan, even better.

    But then, that’s the only *real* cause for concern. Something that could be vented trivially.

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  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Wzrd nailed it again. Indoor radon can be a significant source of ionizing radiation and can indeed contribute to cancer, especially among smokers. It is easy to test for and usually easy to remediate.

    The other main natural source of ionizing radiation are cosmic rays, which can indeed penetrate houses, airplanes, etc. There is no escaping them. Fortunately our bodies have robust mechanisms for repairing the DNA damage from the natural radiation sources, though these mechanisms don’t *always* work.

    And, again, this kind of radiation is very different from the non-ionizing radiation from light, radiowaves, and microwaves– the kind emitted from the sources discussed in the post.

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