Background: Mobile phone use and exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) from it have been associated with symptoms in some studies, but the studies have shortcomings and their findings are inconsistent. We conducted a prospective cohort study to assess the association between amount of mobile phone use at baseline and frequency of headache, tinnitus or hearing loss at 4-year follow-up.
Methods: The participants had mobile phone subscriptions with major mobile phone network operators in Sweden (n = 21 049) and Finland (n = 3120), gave consent for obtaining their mobile phone call data from operator records at baseline, and filled in both baseline and follow-up questionnaires on symptoms, potential confounders and further characteristics of their mobile phone use.
Results: The participants with the highest decile of recorded call-time (average call-time >276 min per week) at baseline showed a weak, suggestive increased frequency of weekly headaches at 4-year follow-up (adjusted odds ratio 1.13, 95% confidence interval 0.95-1.34). There was no obvious gradient of weekly headache with increasing call-time (P trend 0.06). The association of headache with call-time was stronger for the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) network than older Global System for Mobile Telecommunications (GSM) technology, despite the latter involving higher exposure to RF-EMF. Tinnitus and hearing loss showed no association with call-time.
Conclusions: People using mobile phones most extensively for making or receiving calls at baseline reported weekly headaches slightly more frequently at follow-up than other users, but this finding largely disappeared after adjustment for confounders and was not related to call-time in GSM with higher RF-EMF exposure. Tinnitus and hearing loss were not associated with amount of call-time.
Keywords: Cohort studies; cell phones; headache; hearing loss; tinnitus.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.