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Keywords:

  • RF hearing;
  • microwave;
  • thermoelastic;
  • auditory response

Abstract

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 sounds because, in general, a quiet environment is required for the auditory response. The sound is similar to other common sounds such as a click, buzz, hiss, knock, or chirp. Effective radiofrequencies range from 2.4 to 10 000 MHz, but an individual's ability to hear RF induced sounds is dependent upon high frequency acoustic hearing in the kHz range above about 5 kHz. The site of conversion of RF energy to acoustic energy is within or peripheral to the cochlea, and once the cochlea is stimulated, the detection of RF induced sounds in humans and RF induced auditory responses in animals is similar to acoustic sound detection. The fundamental frequency of RF induced sounds is independent of the frequency of the radiowaves but dependent upon head dimensions. The auditory response has been shown to be dependent upon the energy in a single pulse and not on average power density. The weight of evidence of the results of human, animal, and modeling studies supports the thermoelastic expansion theory as the explanation for the RF hearing phenomenon. RF induced sounds involve the perception via bone conduction of thermally generated sound transients, that is, audible sounds are produced by rapid thermal expansion resulting from a calculated temperature rise of only 5 × 10−6 °C in tissue at the threshold level due to absorption of the energy in the RF pulse. The hearing of RF induced sounds at exposure levels many orders of magnitude greater than the hearing threshold is considered to be a biological effect without an accompanying health effect. This conclusion is supported by a comparison of pressure induced in the body by RF pulses to pressure associated with hazardous acoustic energy and clinical ultrasound procedures. Bioelectromagnetics Supplement 6:S162–S173, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.