by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
ipods, pacemakers

In Some Relatively Rare Cases, iPod Headphones May Have Some Impact On Pacemakers

from the struck-by-lightning-twice dept

There have been numerous studies done over the impact various portable electronics devices have on pacemakers, and they often make headlines blown way out of proportion compared to the actual issue. A year and a half ago, for example, we wrote about a report that found that iPods could interfere with pacemakers under some very specific (and somewhat unlikely) circumstances. And now there's a new study making the rounds about how iPod headphones could, maybe interfere with pacemakers, again in some very specific circumstances. As the folks behind the report note, it's so minor that it's not worth causing a big stir about it, but when the headphones are very close to the device, the magnets in them may impact how the device runs. It was a pretty small sample size, but in experiments it happened in 4 out of 27 tests with pacemakers. Slightly more troubling is in cases with defibrillators, where the headphones got in the way 10 out of 33 times. Though, with the pacemakers, it didn't sound as if the interference was all that serious in most cases, and with defibrillators, it seems likely that technicians are likely to notice and remove iPod headphones from getting in the way. While it's good to be aware of the potential for interference, but the actual risk of danger seems pretty minor.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    ericsamson, Nov 10th, 2008 @ 7:22pm

    Who designs these things?

    Maybe someone here will be able to answer this very basic question.

    I get the same reaction when I see something like this, as when I see big "turn off your cell phones" signs in hospitals.

    Who makes critical life-saving equipment and can't be bothered to shield them from such widespread devices as iPod headphones or cellphones?

    I mean, sure, when pacemakers were first designed, no one thought we'd all be walking around with portable microwave emitters in our pockets... but now? We're in 2008. These things are commonplace.

    What gives?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    pangolin (profile), Nov 10th, 2008 @ 7:45pm

    Ipod Only?

    Why pick on Ipod? There has to be another motive here. Any headset with magnets would cause this and I bet the bigger ones with bigger magnets cause bigger problems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    zcat, Nov 10th, 2008 @ 8:12pm

    any magnets will do it..

    not just any headset, but anything with magnets. Those signing magnets you can get? "This product is STRONG magnetic. Always keep a safe distance storage media and electronic equipment such as: hard disks, pacemakers, credit cards, laptops."

    And how about magna-sleep underlays?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    David, Nov 10th, 2008 @ 9:26pm

    Re: Who designs these things?

    About the cell phones in hospitals, the problem is usually not the interference, it's the fact that most of the time you are in the hospital, you want to be served without any interference from people YELLING on the phone, and the easiest way to do that it to put signs up that tell them to turn off the cell phones.

    Not that there is no interference given off by the cell phones, speakers and EKG machines and all of that kind of stuff is almost unavoidable, and while you may be paying a lot of medical bills, most of that goes to the doctors and not to the medical supplies in the hospital.

    Just my thoughts on the whole thing

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 12:27am

    as far as i know all speaker headphone not Ipods only.
    14 out of 60 patients were affected (that study didn't include any Ipods or Iphones).
    supposedly headphone must be less than 2inches away from the heart and defibrillators are affected more than pacemakers.

    Quote 1:
    "Most of the headphones had magnetic field strengths more than 20 times higher than the threshold for interfering with pacemakers or defibrillators, he said. They were made by Sony Corp, Philips Electronics and others."

    Quote 2:
    "MP3 players like Apple Inc's iPod are popular consumer electronic devices. In January, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration researcher said the iPod is unlikely to interfere with pacemakers because it does not produce enough of an electromagnetic field to interfere with the devices."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    UNKN, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 6:09am

    Re: Ipod Only?

    Because it seems to be the most widespread MP3 player out there perhaps?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), Nov 11th, 2008 @ 6:39am


    How to find people to be studied.

    "Hello, we are conducting a medical study. We have on record that you have a pacemaker. We would like to put headphones by your pacemaker and see if it kills you. How does that sound?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 6:40am

    Interfere with a defibrillator?

    Every EMT I have ever met knows that you get Everything you can out of the way of the defibrilllator contacts because clothing can interfere with it. Thats why most of the time if you are in an emergency situation that requires a defibrillator your shirt gets cut off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    linuxjoe, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 9:30am

    There is more than just MP3 Players

    Well having been dealing with Congestive Heart Failure for 3 years with my Wife. She had a Defibrillator implanted 2 years ago, the first thing they tell you is to stay away from magnetic fields. to use your cell phone on the opposite ear of the defibrillator. stay away from motors and microwaves,
    and you get a card to show at security checks that use metal detectors that you have a implanted defibrillator and you are not suppose to go through the detector. All places that use them are to have training and provision to accommodate them. even you local stores with the theft devices at the doors can turn them off.

    Now why pick on MP3 its just a way to create a uproar and panic to get more people excited. My Granddaughter who has a cochlear implant has turned off her defibrillator by laying her head on grandma's shoulder. Thing is that as soon as her magnet on her head piece moved away from her defibrillator it turned back on and started working again.

    There are hundreds of ways to turn off a defibrillator off but none of the others were mentioned just another way to scare people into reading a story and get it plastered everywhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Charming Charlie, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 11:19am

    Should I be worried about having these magnets in my ears, 2 inches from my brain for hours every day?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Who designs these things?

    It depends on what kind of interference you're trying to block and what kind of interference that if it IS blocked would undermine the functionality of the equipment to begin with. Also, its a matter of costs. Medical equipment already has an astronomical cost because of the high factor of safety they have to begin with. Raising it more would make them even more expensive. Though, I will admit that there should at least be standard shielding (which is relatively cheap). However, magnetic shielding costs more. Also, some instruments can't be completely shielded because their whole purpose is to monitor various fields and if they were shielded, they'd no longer be able to monitor anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 12:36pm

    Re: Ipod Only?

    The study I had read a few days back said "MP3 Player Headphones" and made me try and figure out what the difference is between mp3 player headphones and other headphones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 12:40pm

    Re: any magnets will do it..

    I think it wasn't just the presence of a magnet, but when they were in operation and the magnet was moving. I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure they are electromagnets, not static magnets. A moving magnet can cause electrical current. Though, to be honest, I may be wrong because the article I read (not this one, in fact I haven't read this particular one yet) said not to store the headphones in a shirt pocket. This makes me curious as to whether it really is a static magnet or not. It'd also explain why the pacemaker may not be shielded against it (its more difficult to shield against static magnets than electromagnets).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2008 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Interfere with a defibrillator?

    I believe they're referring to a defibrillator that is implanted and can cause it to fire when not needed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    another mike, Nov 12th, 2008 @ 2:06pm


    I remember a Sci-Fi channel commercial from a while back where one of the cast of Stargate SG-1 demonstrates hacking a snack machine with the magnets in a pair of earbuds. It was more prop and camera tricks than plausible science but this story made me think of it.

    Medical stories also make me think of my stay in the ER when I overheard the techs talking about the acute lead poisoning victim that came in. My motorcycle had been put rubber side up by an SUV. I needed that like the other guy needed a hole in his head. Ooh, sorry, window seat please.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    ruby, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 7:03pm


    Bose quietcomfort3 headphones make great commuting partners You just plug in and experience full-bodied, well-balanced audio that brings out the details in your music.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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