Earbuds May be Hazardous to Your Heart
Wednesday, November 12, 2008; 12:19 AM
The dangers of headphones now extend beyond accidentally walking into traffic: a new report released today suggests that pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) may react negatively to the magnets inside MP3-player headphones.
After testing eight different models of earbuds and clip-on headphones, Harvard researchers determined that patients with pacemakers and ICDs should keep headphones at least 1.2 inches away from the device. The magnets inside the headphones send false signals to the heart that may result in skipped beats or, in the case of ICDs: shutdown. According to the Washington Post, "15 percent of patients with pacemakers and 30 percent of those with defibrillators had a response to the magnets."
Keep in mind these problems arise from internal magnets, so the danger exists even when the MP3 player is not operating.
Some doctors are saying that this news sounds far more ominous than it is. Dr. Spencer Rosero, an associate professor of medicine in the electrophysiology unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told the Post that while this information good to know, it's not immediately life-threatening. "It would not kill you," he said. I don't know -- "defibrillator shutdown" sounds pretty dangerous to me.
Though the report suggests that iPods themselves do not interfere with pacemakers, previous reports say otherwise. It's important to remember the breadth of these studies do not encapsulate huge portions of the population and can be easily misread. Still, it's best to be safe and keep those earbuds tucked in your pocket.