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California just issued a warning about cell-phone radiation—How worried should you be?

The guidelines point out, phones give off lower levels of radio frequency energy when they’re connected to WiFi or Bluetooth.

The guidelines say that “some laboratory experiments and human health studies have suggested the possibility that long-term, high use of cell phones may be linked to certain types of cancer and other health effects” before listing off brain cancer, tumors of the acoustic nerve and salivary glands, lower sperm count, headaches, and effects on people’s learning, memory, hearing, behavior, and sleep.

While the guidelines stress that the studies don’t establish a definitive link and that scientists disagree about whether cell phones cause these health problems, they say that the guidelines are designed to provide, well, guidance to families that want to do what they can to lower their family’s exposure to radio frequency energy.

Among other things, the guidelines suggest using your phone’s speaker or a headset when you talk, keeping your phone away from your body, like in your bag versus your pocket, and keeping your phone away from your bed when you sleep. The guidelines also recommend limiting your phone use when your cell signal is weak, when you’re traveling in a fast-moving vehicle, or trying to stream audio or video since these cause your phone to release higher-than-usual levels of radio frequency energy. But, the guidelines point out, phones give off lower levels of radio frequency energy when they’re connected to WiFi or Bluetooth.

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It’s understandable that you might read this and freak out, worrying that you’ve been slowly killing yourself with your phone—or at the very least be unsure of what to think. “It's incredibly confusing,” says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. “Consumers have been told over and over again that cell phones are safe and now there is a new recommendation that is definitely going to trigger anxiety in many people.” Still, she says, there’s a lot of conflicting info on the topic, so it’s better to be cautious. “There is no harm trying to limit the exposure,” she points out.

Wider stresses that no one really knows a definitive answer on whether cell phone use is safe, and that more studies are needed. “Certain levels are most likely safe, but excessive exposure probably has harmful effects including headaches, low sperm count, possible cognitive issues and possible increase of risk of cancer,” she says.

And, given that the recommendations for safe cell-phone use aren’t hard to follow, it can’t hurt to actually try them. “Err on the safe side,” Wider says.

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