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Auditory Response to Pulsed Radiofrequency Energy

Auditory Response to Pulsed Radiofrequency Energy

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BioelectromagneticsSupplement6:S162^S173(2003)
AuditoryResponsetoPulsedRadiofrequencyEnergy
J.A. Elder* and C.K.Chou
MotorolaFloridaResearchLaboratories,Ft.Lauderdale,FL,USA
The human auditory response to pulses of radiofrequency (RF) energy, commonly called RF hearing,is a well established phenomenon. RF induced sounds can be characterized as low intensity soundsbecause, in general, a quiet environment is required for the auditory response. The sound is similar toother common sounds such as a click, buzz, hiss, knock, or chirp. Effective radiofrequencies rangefrom2.4to10000MHz,butanindividual’sabilitytohearRFinducedsoundsisdependentuponhighfrequencyacoustichearinginthekHzrangeaboveabout5kHz.ThesiteofconversionofRFenergytoacousticenergyiswithinorperipheraltothecochlea,andoncethecochleaisstimulated,thedetectionof RF induced sounds in humans and RF induced auditory responses in animals is similar to acousticsounddetection.ThefundamentalfrequencyofRFinducedsoundsisindependentofthefrequencyof the radiowaves but dependent upon head dimensions. The auditory response has been shown to bedependentupontheenergyinasinglepulseandnotonaveragepowerdensity.Theweightofevidenceof the results of human, animal, and modeling studies supports the thermoelastic expansion theory asthe explanation for the RF hearing phenomenon. RF induced sounds involve the perception via boneconduction of thermally generated sound transients, that is, audible sounds are produced by rapidthermal expansion resulting from a calculated temperature rise of only 5
Â
10
À
6
8
C in tissue at thethreshold level due to absorption of the energy in the RF pulse. The hearing of RF induced sounds atexposure levels many orders of magnitude greater than the hearing threshold is considered to be abiologicaleffectwithoutanaccompanyinghealtheffect.Thisconclusionissupportedbyacomparisonof pressure induced in the body by RF pulses to pressure associated with hazardous acoustic energyand clinical ultrasound procedures. Bioelectromagnetics Supplement 6:S162–S173, 2003.
ß
2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Key words: RF hearing; microwave; thermoelastic; auditory response
INTRODUCTION
An informational advertisement describing ob-servations made in 1947 on the hearing of soundsthat occurred at the repetition rate of a radar while thelistenerstoodclosetotheantennaincludedthecommentthat people encountered skepticism and rather pointedquestions about their mental health when they first toldtheir coworkers of their hearing experiences [AirborneInstruments Laboratory, 1956]. The skepticism sur-rounding early reports of radiofrequency (RF) hearingwas based on knowledge of the mechanism of humanhearing. The ear was known to be exquisitely sensitiveto pressure waves but to have no sensitivity to electro-magnetic waves at microwave frequencies (300 MHz–300 GHz).The skepticism helps to explain why the firstsystematic study of RF hearing by Frey [1961] did notappear until many years after the observation of thiseffect in the 1940s. Frey’s report described the hearingoftransientbuzzingsoundsbyhumansubjectsexposedto RF energy from a radar. The apparent location of thesound, which was described as a short distance behindthe head, was the same regardless of the body’s orien-tation to the radar [Frey, 1961]. In later reports [Frey,1962, 1963], RF hearing was described as a ‘‘buzz,clicking, hiss, or knocking’’ sound. Table 1 containsdescriptions of these and other sounds reported byhuman beings exposed to pulsed RF fields. When ametalshieldofaluminumflyscreenwasplacedbetweenthe subject and the radar, no RF sounds were heard[Frey and Messenger, 1973]. The sensitive area fordetecting RF sounds was described as a region over thetemporal lobe of the brain, because the placement of a
ß
2003Wiley-Liss,Inc.
*Correspondence to: Joe A. Elder, PhD, Motorola FloridaResearch Laboratories, 8000 W. Sunrise Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale,FL 33322. E-mail: joe.elder@motorola.comReceived for review 3 September 2002; Final revision received 21May 2003DOI 10.1002/bem.10163Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).
 
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     þ
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     >
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     <
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    9    (
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     >
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     þ
   e   a   r   s   t   o   p   p    l   e   s    )    T   y   a   z    h   e    l   o   v   e   t   a    l .    [    1    9    7    9    ]
     a
    C   a    l   c   u    l   a   t   e    d   p   e   a    k   a    b   s   o   r    b   e    d   e   n   e   r   g   y    d   e   n   s    i   t   y   p   e   r   p   u    l   s   e    i   s    1    6   m    J    /    k   g .
AuditoryResponsetoRFPulses S163
 
small piece of metal screen (5
Â
5 cm) over this areacompletelystoppedthesound[Frey,1962].Thesubjectsin Frey [1961] reported an increase in the RF inducedsound level when earplugs were used to reduce theambientnoiselevel,anobservationconfirmedbyothers[Guy et al., 1975].The ‘‘sound was something like that of a beebuzzing on a window, but with, perhaps, more highfrequencies’’ according to Ingalls [1967] who used tworadars like those described in Frey [1961]. The soundseemed to come from about a meter or two above thehead.Inanotherreport[Constant,1967],theRFinducedsound was described as being in the area of the ear onthe side opposite to the antenna. All subjects heard abuzzing sound at a pulse repetition rate (PRR) greaterthan 100/s, whereas individual pulses were heard at aPRR below 100/s. Cain and Rissmann [1978] reportedthat human subjects heard distinct clicks either insidethe head or behind the head when exposed to pulsedfields. Individual pulses were heard as distinct andseparate clicks, and short pulse trains as chirps with thetone pitch corresponding to the PRR [Guy et al., 1975].The RF induced sound appeared to originate fromwithin or near the back of the head. This report alsoincluded the note that transmitted digital codes couldbe accurately interpreted by the subject when the pulsegenerator was keyed manually. Two reports describedRF induced sounds as polytonal sounds and ‘‘tinnitus’’[Tyazhelov et al., 1979; Khizhnyak et al., 1980]. RFinducedsoundsinvolunteersexposedtoheadcoilsusedin magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were describedaschirpsorclicksofhighpitchforshortpulses(
<
50
m
s)and as creaky or gnashing clacks of lower pitch forlonger pulses (
>
100
m
s) [Ro¨schmann, 1991].The above studies show that human perceptionof pulsed RF energy, resulting in sounds that varywith modulation of the signal, is a well establishedphenomenon. The following sections describe the ef-fective exposure parameters including thresholds forRF hearing, the dependence of RF hearing on acoustichearing, the mechanism responsible for human per-ception of pulsed RF fields, and a discussion of thesignificance of the effect. Reviews on this subject in-clude those by Lin [1978, 1980, 1981, 1989, 1990,2001]; Chou et al. [1982]; Elder [1984]; Frey [1988];Postow and Swicord [1996]; and Stewart [2000].
EFFECTIVE RF EXPOSURE PARAMETERS
A summary of RF exposure parameters used inhuman studies is shown in Table 1. The parametersinclude frequency, PRR, pulse width, peak powerdensity, average power density, and energy density/ pulse. Threshold values for RF hearing have beenreported in several studies and these are shown in thetable also.RF hearing has been reported at frequenciesrangingfrom2.4to10000MHz(seeTable1).AlthoughIngalls [1967] mentioned 10000 MHz as an effectivefrequency, other investigators found that lower fre-quencies (8900 and 9500 MHz) at very high exposurelevels did not induce RF sounds. For example, thefrequency of 8900 MHz was not effective at an averagepowerdensityof25mW/cm
2
andpeakpowerdensityof 25000mW/cm
2
[Frey,1962].At216MHz,theaveragepower density threshold was 4 mW/cm
2
and the peak power density was 670 mW/cm
2
[Frey, 1963]. At thelowest effective frequencies (2.4–170 MHz) reportedin the literature, the peak power density thresholdswere up to 9000 mW/cm
2
[Ro¨schmann, 1991]. Thelowest threshold value expressed in units of averageincident power density is 0.001 mW/cm
2
[Cain andRissmann, 1978]; this value was due to the low PRR of only 0.5/s (Table 1) because, for a given peak power,averagepowerdensitydependsonthePRR.Thehearingphenomenon, however, has been shown to depend onthe energy in a single pulse and not on average powerdensity. Guy et al. [1975] found that the threshold forRF hearing of pulsed 2450 MHz fields was related toan energy density of 40
m
J/cm
2
per pulse, or energyabsorption per pulse of 16
m
J/g, regardless of the peak power of the pulse or the pulse width (less than 32
m
s);calculations showed that each pulse at this energydensity would increase tissue temperature by about5
Â
10
À
6
8
C.A comparison of the RF auditory thresholdsreported in the literature to the thresholds observedin human subjects exposed to fields from MRI coilsshowed good agreement over a wide range of frequen-cies(2.4–3000MHz) [seeFig. 7inRo¨schmann,1991].Another comparison in this report showed that elec-trophysiological measurements in cats yielded thresh-olds quite similar to results from RF hearing tests of humans.A review of Table 1 reveals that many of the threshold values were determined in a very quietenvironment or subjects used earplugs or earmuffs todecrease the ambient noise level. As mentioned inIntroduction, earplugs were used by the subjects inFrey’s first report in 1961. Thus, investigators weregenerally aware that a quiet environment was requiredbecause, in many cases, the normal noise levels inoutdoor,laboratory,andMRIenvironmentsmaskedthehearingofRFsounds.InGuyetal.[1975],forexample,the threshold value cited above was obtained in a veryquiet environment having a background noise level of only 45 dB. When earplugs were used, the thresholdlevel for one subject decreased from 35 to 28
m
J/cm
2
.
S164 Elderand Chou

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