Headache, tinnitus and hearing loss in the international Cohort Study of Mobile Phone Use and Health (COSMOS) in Sweden and Finland

Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Oct 1;48(5):1567-1579. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz127.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cell Phone
  • Cell Phone Use / statistics & numerical data*
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Headache / etiology*
  • Hearing Loss / etiology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radio Waves / adverse effects*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden
  • Time Factors*
  • Tinnitus / etiology
  • Young Adult