Is Computer Radiation Damaging Your Health?

Notebook computer radiationIf you use computers at work or at home, or both, then computers may be your biggest source of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) . Could this radiation threaten your health?

Computers today generate both low-frequency and radio-frequency EMR. Both types of radiation are potentially harmful – even the World Health Organisation now calls them possible carcinogens (i.e. they may cause cancer).

In fact, this radiation has been linked with many serious diseases:

  • Asthma
  • Alzheimers
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Heart Disease
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Damage to nerves, immune system and reproductive systems.

See EMF Health Effects.

Symptoms of EMF Exposure

Symptoms of frequent and prolonged EMF exposure are often dismissed as being caused by stress, overwork, or just getting older. These include

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Concentration and memory disorders
  • Dizziness
  • Skin prickling, itching, burning or flushing sensations on the face or elsewhere
  • Uncomfortable, dry or swollen mucous membranes in the throat, ears or sinuses
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Heart palpitations

Electromagnetic HyperSensitivity (EHS)

Noticing symptoms related to EMF exposure can be a sign that a person is developing a condition known as Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS).

With EHS, when an afflicted person is exposed to certain types of  EMF, they often experience symptoms  — usually one or more of those in the list above.

This can be a real problem for these people because they may experience pain and discomfort at very much lower levels of radiation than those normally considered “safe.” In severe cases, they may have to avoid any and all EMFs – a serious handicap in today’s world.

EHS is quite common. Up to 3% of the population may be affected, and that percentage is apparently increasing quite rapidly. It is generally thought to be caused by over-exposure to EMR, either a massive single exposure, or more usually a cumulative exposure over a long period.

Computer usage is frequently implicated in this process, especially when wireless communications are used.

Fortunately, computer users may be able to reduce their EMR exposure by 10 to 50 times by following our simple guidelines.

How to avoid EMF exposure from computer usage

To minimise the amount of radiation you absorb, and the risk to your health

  1. Don’t get too close to low-frequency radiation sources (see below)
  2. Don’t use radio communication facilities in your computer and network equipment.

All the advice in this article boils down to one or other of these two suggestions.

Electromagnetic Radiation Basics

Many people feel so overwhelmed by this issue of EMR that they just give up on it. They think that it really is not possible to live in the modern world without being exposed to radiation from one source or another, all day long.

But with a little knowledge, it is possible.

Any source of EMR creates a field of energy around it, called the electromagnetic field, or EMF. This field is strongest right at the source and gets progressively weaker the further away you are from the source — like heat from a fire.

Now the thing about low-frequency radiation is that the field gets weaker very rapidly, so even a strong low-frequency EMF may not be measurable a few feet away from the source. This makes it easy to avoid this kind of EMR, at least from computers and similar equipment.

On the other hand, radio-frequency radiation gets weaker very slowly (which is why it is used for communications) so the EMF extends for a great distance. It is usually not practical just to get further away from radio-frequency EMF sources. That is why we recommend wired alternatives, not wireless.

EMF from your Computer Screen

Radiation from Multiple Computer ScreensThere are several sources of low-frequency radiation in a typical computer. Most of them are inside the case of the computer, but the screen (monitor) also radiates this kind of energy.

Modern flat computer screens (LCD or LED) generally produce far less EMR than the old-fashioned cathode ray (box) screens did, and also less than the older flat screens.

If you keep a normal viewing distance away from a flat screen (say 12 inches or more) you will be out of harm’s way, unless it is a very large one.

(A good rule of thumb for a modern, big screen is to halve the screen diagonal to get the minimum safe viewing distance. So for a 30 inch screen you would need to keep 15 inches away.)

In practise this means that you don’t need to worry about the radiation from a computer screen if it is flat, manufactured around 2010 or later, and a reputable brand — unless you are very short-sighted or vision-impaired.

Even if you use two or more screens, there is no problem as long as each one is 12 inches or more from your face.

If you still use an old CRT (box) screen, keep 18 inches away from the front of it, and 24 inches away from the back. (And perhaps it’s time you treated yourself to a new screen!)

If you have an EMF meter you can determine your own viewing distances. (If the meter records less than 0.5 mG, that is a safe distance.)

Low-frequency EMF sources inside your computer

Laptop on lapThe main low-frequency emitters inside your computer case are the power supply, and the disc drive motors.

The power supply generates a constant EMF. The disc drive only generates an EMF when it is busy reading or writing data, which is pretty much all the time if you are using your computer.

The EMF from these sources may extend about 18 inches, generally less. Newer devices (not just computers) generally emit less low-frequency radiation than older types.

Electrical engineers have learned to make power supplies, transformers, motors and screens which produce much lower levels of EMF. This may help you justify that new computer purchase you have been thinking about!

Just because the EMF only extends 18 iniches does not mean it is weak or harmless. Right at the source, the EMF might be very strong, perhaps 40 or 50 milligauss (mG). A borderline safe level is 1 mG.

So if a part of your body is in contact with the computer box, or your laptop, that part of your body could be exposed to a very high EMF.

When working with a desktop computer, keep the computer case on the floor, not on your desk. And position it as far away from you as the cables will stretch. Of course you can’t do that with a laptop.

More about Laptop EMR

Laptop EMFIf you work with a laptop on your desk, push it forward (away from you) as far as you can while remaining comfortable. Then the only issue is your hands on the keyboard.

If you have the laptop close to you on the desk, your trunk and head can be irradiated, and so can your thighs, because radio-frequency and low-frequency radiation both travel down through your desk.

Except when travelling, I don’t rest my hands on my laptop keyboard, or use the built-in touchpad. I plug in an external USB keyboard and mouse. These generates no EMF, provided they are wired.

My laptop is pushed forward on my desk and the external keyboard is between me and the laptop. The tips of my fingers are still only a few inches from the laptop and are exposed to some low-frequency EMF, but not more than 0.5 mG. I am happy with that. (If my fingers rest on the laptop keyboard, they are exposed to more than 50 mG.)

Many people work with their laptop actually on their laps, in trains, planes, or just at home. This is the way to get maximum EMF exposure, especially to the reproductive organs.

There is a lot of published research about EMR causing damage to sperm and affecting male fertility. But if you are a woman, you have a greater cause for concern. When you were born, your ovaries already contained their lifetime supply of egg cells. If those cells are damaged, they will never be replaced. Whereas a man may be able to remove himself from EMF sources and produce undamaged sperm again.

But damage to either sperm or eggs may cause defects in the fertilized egg, affecting the viability of the embryo, or the abilities or health of the child.

Other cells may also be damaged which are not part of the reproductive system. If sperm are damaged by EMFs, surely other cells are too.

What is true for laptops applies equally to notepads, notebooks, portables and other types of computer. They all generate radio-frequency radiation, unless this facility is absent or switched off.

Radio-frequency Radiation

Free Wi-fiThis is becoming more and more of an issue for computer users, as wi-fi and wireless networks are everywhere. When you are travelling is a good time to make use of these facilities.

But I prefer to exclude all forms of wireless communication from my home, and if possible, from the workplace.

Computers can be connected to networks with wires. Not so cool as wireless connections, perhaps, and not as convenient. But smarter than introducing a known carcinogen into your home.

And if anyone chooses to go wireless anyway, for their own reasons, they would be wise to switch off all the radio emitting devices before going to bed every night. Then at least they would have eight hours a day free from EMF pollution . Their body can use that time to repair some of the damage!

If you decide not to use wireless, you have to actually disable that capability on each device that offers the option: your computers, printers, routers, and anything which communicates with them.

Sometimes you press a switch or a key to disable wireless, or sometimes you have to change software settings. If you have an R/F EMF meter, use it to check that the equipment is really not generating any R/F EMF.

Other Computer Equipment

External drives generate as much EMR as those inside a computer. Keep 18 inches away from them.

Loudspeakers – some of the woofers generate a powerful EMF. Keep 18 inches away from those, too.

Headphone RadiationHeadphones and headsets. I have not measured many headphones. Mine generate up to 5 mG on loud music (not good for your hearing anyway!)

Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) produce some of the largest EMFs found in the office. They may not all be the same, but I suggest you keep about 4 feet away from these bad boys!

Printers – keep 18 inches away from desktop printers, and 2 feet from stand-alone office printers.

Routers, modems and network hubs and switches – if used wirelessly will produce a powerful radio-frequency EMF which extends for many meters. If they are used in wired mode, they still produce low-frequency radiation – safe at 12 inches.

Transformers and charger units for all of the above (and also for anything else) produce a low-frequency EMF which can be powerful, especially with older units. Safe at 2 to 3 feet.

Kindle – Happily the Kindle I tested produced no radiation, except when being charged or when downloading wirelessly. These devices are therefore safe to use, even by children. I’ve not tested alternative brands.

The only way to be sure about other devices is to test with a low-frequency EMF meter.

If you choose to use wireless facilities in your home, you will also benefit from having a radio-frequency EMF meter. (You might even change your mind about going wireless!) Even if you don’t use wireless devices at home, you may still want to check for radio-frequency EMF in your home, from outside sources.


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