Our cell phones are often our lifeline — our connection to the world around us. But could these “always on” devices be harmful to our heath?

The National Cancer Institute notes there are three main reasons why people are concerned that cell phones may have harmful, potentially cancerous effects: the emission of radio frequency energy which can be absorbed by human tissue; the number of cell phone users increasing rapidly with limited research on their effects; and the increasing number and length of mobile calls per day, plus the improvement of cellular technology in recent years.

Woman and cell phone

RADIOFREQUENCY ENERGY

Cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation in the form of non-ionizing radio frequency (RF) energy, as do microwave ovens, MRI devices and — at a lower frequency — AM/FM radios. Exposure to its counterpart, ionizing radiation, is known to increase the risk of cancer, but there is no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation is positively linked to cancer risk. Scientists have suspected that RF energy may increase the risk of brain cell damage and lead to the formation of tumors, which was found to be true in rats during a 1995 study. There has been no evidence of this link in humans, but, uncomfortably enough, no evidence has been made disproving this theory either.

Children have the potential to be at the highest risk for developing health issues due to cell phone exposure. Their nervous systems are still developing and the tissue surrounding their brains is softer, making them more vulnerable to radiation. They also have smaller heads compared to adults meaning they are more exposed, proportionally, to RF energy by cell phones. And as cell phones become more prominent, children will have accumulated more years of exposure to mobile devices in their lifetimes than adults.

kid on phone

GROWING NUMBER OF MOBILE USERS

The number of mobile devices in the world officially surpassed the number of human beings on October 7, 2014, according to real-time tracking by GSMA Intelligence. The two crossed paths somewhere around 7.19 billion people and devices alike. This takes into account the growing number of electronic devices that connect exclusively with others like cars and smart watches, and though over half of the population is still without a mobile phone, cell phones and smart phones are the main cause of the rapid growth in mobile connections.

LENGTH OF CALLS & TECHNOLOGICAL IMPROVEMENTS

As many more cellular towers have been placed in recent years and the quality of phones has improved, the number and length of phone calls has increased drastically. This prolongs exposure to RF energy near your brain as you hold the phone to your ear longer and more times per day, though the Federal Communication Commission recommends keeping your phone 5 to 25 millimeters away from you body to limit this energy emission to safe levels. Technological improvements and the increased popularity of smart phones has also contributed to the need for Wi-Fi devices. These also emit RF energy, heightening concerns of this radiation’s effect on our health.

talking on phone in car

While cell phones have become an essential part of our daily lives, there are a few ways to limit your family’s exposure to radiation while staying connected.

Keep your phone off your body. Women should not store their phones in their bras; it exceeds the FCC’s recommendation for a safe distance. Men should keep their phones out of their pockets as one study linked RF radiation to decreased bone density in the pelvis and another found that it lowers a man’s fertility. (via Oprah)

Limit children’s use. Because they may be at a greater risk of health issues, limit children’s use of mobile devices and teach them to keep the phone at a safe distance. If they are using apps or games, put the phone in airplane mode to reduce the device’s RF energy. Downloading apps that do not require a constant data connection can also reduce energy emission.

>> Read more: The Best iPhone Apps for Toddlers

Find new ways to talk. Wearing headphones or using speakerphone while talking allows you to position the phone away from your body and lower reduce RF energy. If you wear a wireless earpiece, though, remove it between calls to eliminate the potential for radiation exposure. You may also let your fingers do the talking and opt to text rather than take phone calls when possible.

Don’t talk in the car. Using your phone while driving requires it to jump between cell towers as you move. RF energy is highest when a connection with a new tower is found, increasing your exposure. Similarly, your phone’s RF energy increases when your signal is low as it tries to establish new connections. So when you’ve only got one bar, it’s best to wait until you’re out of the dead zone to make a call.

Turn off devices at night. Turning off your mobile devices and Wi-Fi router at night or removing them from bedrooms will decrease your exposure when you aren’t actively using them. If you use your phone as a sleep tracker or alarm, consider alternatives that do not emit RF energy like a sleep-tracking band or old-fashioned alarm clock.

>> Read more: Disconnect to Connect: Rediscover Family Life Without Your Smartphone