Cell Phones May Damage Nerves In The Scalp

Cell Phones May Damage Nerves In The Scalp
Journalist: Amy Norton
August 15, 2000

As cellular phones become ubiquitous, their status as a possible health threat–either as a distraction to drivers or a potential cause of brain tumors–is gaining more attention. Now, investigators say there is evidence that cell phones may damage nerves in the scalp.

In the current issue of the journal Occupational Medicine, Australian researchers report on a patient whose cell phone use appears to have damaged nerves in his scalp.

According to Drs. Bruce Hocking and R. Westerman of Caulfield General Medical Centre in Victoria, this nerve injury may explain the scalp pain they have found in 40 cell phone users so far who complain of burning feelings or dull aches around the ear, the temple, or back of the head.

In this case, the 72-year-old man suffered pain only on the right side of his head, where he held his cell phone. He described his symptoms as a persistent “bruised” feeling that was “on the head,” rather than “in the head.” The pain extended from the right side of his head to his cheek and neck. The investigators found signs of sensory damage in some nerves in the right side of man’s head, but not on the left.

Hocking told Reuters Health that these findings offer a “plausible neural basis” for the symptoms among the 40 cell phone users his team has identified. In other words, he said, their pain is not just “all in their minds.”

While it is unclear how cell phones might harm scalp nerves, Hocking noted, it is unlikely that it is the heat that radiates from the phones. Such thermal effects have been put up as a possible risk for brain tumors. If heat were behind this man’s scalp pain, Hocking said, his lifetime of Australian summers would have produced similar symptoms. Besides, he added, the scalp has a very efficient cooling system.

Instead of burning the skin, cell phones may somehow disturb nerve function in the scalp, according to Hocking.

He stressed, however, that this research does not offer any support to the theory that cell phones contribute to the formation of brain tumors–a health condition that would arise from genetic damage, rather than nerve injury.

Hocking and Westerman conclude that “exposure to the head from mobile phone radiation should be minimized by using short call times and the use of hands-6.00 or other devices.”