Air travel gives us incredible opportunities — to explore the world, expand our horizons, conduct business and connect with family members across the globe. And now, with the increased competition and introduction of budget airlines, it’s easier than ever to grab our bags and hop on a flight. But as we fly more and more, should we be concerned about airplane radiation?
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What is Radiation Exactly?
Before diving deep into this topic, let’s take a moment to understand what radiation actually is.
Radiation is a broad term that describes things that “radiate” from a specific source. When most people hear the word “radiation,” they immediately think of nuclear sites and the harmful radiation present in such areas.
And although nuclear radiation is real, it’s just a tiny part of a vast electromagnetic spectrum.There are many types of radiation out there. Some of them are present around us, and some (like radiofrequency and microwaves) work daily to make our lives easier. Have a look.
Types of Radiation
If you’re familiar with the electromagnetics branch of physics, you may have heard of the term “electromagnetic spectrum.” It’s the entire distribution of electromagnetic radiations, categorized according to their frequency or wavelength. See the image below for reference.
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The electromagnetic spectrum chart contains every type of radiation out there, be it earth’s own magnetic field, radiofrequency that your cell phone and tablets use, or X-rays and gamma rays.
Experts have further categorized them into two sections, known as non-ionizing and ionizing radiations.
Ionizing radiation is named as such because of its ability to ionize atoms. Or, to put it simply, it can break down atoms and remove electrons from them. The types of radiation in the non-ionizing section don’t have this ability (hence the name).
But this in no way means that non-ionizing radiation isn’t harmful. Per thousands of research studies, prolonged exposure to non-ionizing radiation can cause health problems ranging from minor sleep disorders to chronic diseases like cancer. Visit my “EMF Health Effects” page for more information.
So now that you’re familiar with the concept of radiation, we’re ready to move forward and learn more about airplane radiation. So, what does airplane radiation mean, and where does it come from?
Does Airplane Radiation Come from Airplanes?
First, it’s important to understand what we’re talking about when we refer to airplane radiation. True, the electronics inside airplanes can be a significant source of EMF radiation exposure during travel. But the term “airplane radiation” actually refers to cosmic radiation that hits the plane while in flight. That’s right: EMF from outer space.
Understanding Cosmic Radiation
We all know that X-rays are harmful if you’re exposed to them for a prolonged period. This is why X-ray technicians wear a lead jacket and go to a separate room before turning on the machine.
X-rays are ionizing in nature and can cause several problems. But, getting a single scan likely won’t have any long-term health implications.
(The exception is if you’re suffering from EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity). In that case, a single X-ray can cause severe pain and harm. Therefore, if you’re suffering from EHS, you may wish to avoid X-ray imaging unless it’s a life-threatening situation.)
X-ray technicians, meanwhile, have to be in that room every single day. So, they take precautions like wearing a lead jacket and creating a distance between themselves and the machine.
Cosmic radiation is another type of ionizing radiation. As per research studies, exposure to cosmic radiation for a long time without any protection could cause you to develop problems like loss of white blood cells, platelet reduction, infertility, altered kidney function, and even cancer.
The Harvard Study
The Harvard School of Public Health has been conducting research on the health of flight attendants for a long time now. And it won’t come as a surprise that flight attendants have reported more health problems than the general population.
Fun Fact – Flight attendants and airline pilots are classified as radiation workers. More on that later.
According to Harvard’s FA Health Study, flight attendants “had a higher prevalence of every cancer that was examined, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer among females, confirming multiple U.S. and European studies.
“Job tenure was linked to non-melanoma skin cancer among females, with borderline associations for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer among males.”
Airline pilots have also shown a significant increase in specific cancers as well as altered circadian rhythms, among other negative health outcomes.
Learn more about it in this great article by Disciples of Flight.
Cosmic radiation is a real phenomenon. And our earth’s atmosphere is the only thing blocking it from reaching us on the ground.
At the cruising altitude of a typical commercial airline, the atmospheric protection is a lot weaker than on the ground. Therefore, you get exposed to this extremely powerful radiation without known origins.
In 1969, the crew of Apollo 11, the mission that landed humankind on the moon’s surface, reported something very unusual. As they gazed from their capsule onto the breathtaking view of our blue planet, they experienced a series of light flashes inside their eyeballs as they blinked.
Nobody expected something like this to happen, and nobody could understand it at that moment. That’s when NASA contacted physicist Lawrence Pinsky to investigate this strange phenomenon.
Once this story came to light, other astronauts on outer space missions also reported seeing those flashes. And naturally, Pinsky suspected that whatever it was could be harmful.
It wasn’t until the Apollo 16 mission in 1972 that Pinsky could design an experiment and test his hypothesis. He devised this simple experiment in which he asked the astronauts to cover their eyes for some time once they were in space. He designed the experiment that way because he was sure that what astronauts saw was light and nothing else.
But what the astronauts reported completely changed his hypothesis. Even with their eyes covered, they still saw the flashes. If it were light, it wouldn’t have been able to pass through the barriers.
This pointed towards those strange flashes being a kind of radiation with an ability to penetrate atoms and pass through solid objects. NASA later named it cosmic radiation.
Effects of Cosmic Radiation: Per NASA
Cosmic radiation didn’t show any ill effects at first. But after some time, around 17% of the astronauts started to experience problems like cataracts.
Experts also say that prolonged cosmic radiation exposure can also lead to chronic diseases like cancer.
How Does Cosmic Radiation Affect You?
Cosmic radiation broadly comes in two forms: ever-present cosmic rays and solar flare events.
Solar flare events are sudden eruptions of energy on the sun’s surface that send bursts of radiation and electromagnetic waves through space.
The fact that cosmic radiation exists in space in large quantities is verified by NASA, who states that “astronauts receive over ten times the radiation than what’s naturally occurring on Earth” and that “above Earth’s protective shielding, radiation exposure may increase your cancer risk.”
When we live our lives on the ground, most of the cosmic radiation doesn’t reach us. It’s blocked by the earth’s atmospheric shielding.
However, the further from the earth’s surface you get, the thinner the air becomes. This means that less of the cosmic rays are deflected. So, when we’re at 30,000 feet elevation, we’re exposed to way more of this cosmic radiation than we evolved to cope with on earth.
Of course, even very frequent airplane travelers aren’t going to be exposed to as much radiation as someone on a NASA space station. So how much radiation does a flight expose you to?
The radiation level will depend on three main factors:
The duration of the flight. The more time you spend in the air, the more radiation you will be exposed to.
The flight altitude. The higher you go, the further you get from the earth’s protective atmosphere.
The flight path. If your flight path takes you closer to the North or South pole, you will be exposed to more radiation. This is because the earth’s magnetic field partially deflects cosmic radiation away from the equator and towards the poles.
Radiation Exposure and Crew Members
To understand the effects of cosmic radiation on people who fly frequently, we can look at the case of pilots and cabin crew members.
Interestingly, because they face much higher exposure to cosmic radiation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actually classifies airline crew members as radiation workers.
In a 2009 report, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements stated that, on average, aircrews have the highest yearly dose of radiation. This is out of all radiation-exposed workers in the US. Even above that of X-ray technicians and nuclear power workers and second only to astronauts.
How Much Radiation do Flight Crews Receive?
Most pilots and cabin crew fly an average of 700 hours every year. This means they’re exposed to cosmic radiation for this entire duration.
But where does this place their risk level of developing radiation-induced health problems?
To better understand this, first, you must be familiar with the concept of sieverts.
A sievert is a unit of radiation absorption in the International System of Units.
Experts say that “a single one sievert (1,000 mSv) dose causes radiation sickness such as nausea, vomiting, hemorrhaging, but not death. A single dose of 5 sieverts would kill about half of those exposed to it within a month.”
But luckily, as I mentioned, our cosmic radiation exposure on earth doesn’t reach that high.
One sievert equals 1000 millisievert (mSv), and that’s the unit we use to calculate the dosage “radiation workers” such as flight crew receive.
According to calculations, when you fly for 700 hours, your accumulated cosmic radiation exposure reaches 2.1 mSv. And in 10 years, your total cosmic radiation exposure reaches an average of 21 mSv.
Using the Omni Calculator, you can calculate your cosmic radiation exposure level based on your flight hours.
But this exposure is just from their flights, which is not the only place they’re exposed to cosmic radiation.
Besides Their Flights
Although the earth’s atmosphere and magnetic shield protect us from cosmic radiation, they don’t completely shield us from it. Research studies say that we’re exposed to this radiation on earth as well (in low doses, of course).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the average annual dose due to cosmic radiation in the US is 0.34 mSv per year.”
And epidemiological data directly suggest increased cancer risk in the 10 mSv to 100 mSv range.
This is also why the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that airline crew members “may be more likely to get skin cancer and female flight attendants may be more likely to get breast cancer than the general population” due to elevated levels of cosmic radiation.
Reproductive Health and Airplane Radiation
Another health effect of exposure to cosmic radiation during air travel is damage to reproductive health. A 2015 study by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined the heightened risk of miscarriage for flight attendants.
While disruption to circadian rhythms was found to be a greater indicator of increased risk for miscarriage, an analysis of radiation exposure also found solar flare events to be particularly worrisome for pregnant women.
This report states that “exposure to 0.1mGy or more may be associated with increased risk of miscarriage.” And that “during one of the solar particle events studied, radiation dose reached 0.45 mGy on a single flight. These data suggest that if a pregnant flight attendant works on a flight that travels through a solar particle event, she could be exposed to more radiation than is recommended during pregnancy.”
Besides Cosmic Radiation
Along with cosmic radiation from the atmosphere, airplanes have the added complexity of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) bouncing around inside the fuselage.
These EMFs exist in things like communications equipment, cockpit computers, and electrical sensors— plus, in many places nowadays, WiFi networks. The EMF exposure to passengers is amplified by the metallic structure of the plane, which traps and therefore intensifies the fields.
How to Combat Airplane Radiation
Between cosmic radiation and human-made electromagnetic fields from modern technology in airplanes, the vessels pose a significant radiation risk—especially for those who have existing health issues, have a high cancer risk, are pregnant, or are frequent travelers.
However, radiation levels on a flight aren’t so high that you’d have to forgo airplane travel altogether. Just be aware that the more you fly, the greater your risk. And the risk can warrant taking a few precautions like using an EMF shielding product.
Conductive materials-based EMF shielding products (like the ones SYB makes and sells) are good at protecting you from the radiation you face when flying. Here’s a list of some of our products you can use for this purpose.
SYB Baby Blanket
Babies and children are much more vulnerable to the effects of EMF than adults. So, to protect your little ones from the harmful effects of EMF radiation, we designed a super comfortable baby blanket with extremely powerful EMF shielding capabilities.
The SYB Baby Blanket is composed of three layers. The two outside layers are made with US-grown high-quality cotton flannel. Between the two layers is a powerful EMF shield made with a protective mesh of microscopic silver wires, which deflects 99% of EMF radiation away from the baby.
It’s particularly beneficial if you are pregnant or have a baby with you while flying. That said, we also have adult customers who aren’t pregnant tell us that they use it for themselves during flights. It’s a protective measure that’s worth the investment.
The SYB Bandana is one of the most attractive and versatile EMF protection products available on the market.
It’s made from 65% fine silver thread, interwoven into pure silk. This makes it both highly protective against EMF as well as extremely comfortable on your skin.
This product is tested to work against all kinds of EMFs in the radiofrequency and microwave range, including 5G.
SYB Neck Gaiter
The SYB Neck Gaiter is one of our best-selling products to date. Its versatile nature allows you to use it as a headband, wristband, bandana, or neck warmer. Besides that, you can also easily use it as an alternative to facemasks.
We crafted this product using 90% silver and 10% spandex. With a clean, unisex look, it’s great for kids and adults alike.
SYB Boxer Briefs
The human reproductive system, especially in men, is highly susceptible to EMF’s effects. This is why we created the extremely comfortable SYB Boxer Briefs.
Our briefs have a mesh of silver microfibers weaved through the cotton, making them effectively like a Faraday Cage. The SYB Boxer Briefs have been tested to deflect up to 99% of all wireless EMF radiation, including 5G, coming towards your reproductive organs.
On top of that, SYB boxers offer the same level of support and comfort as any high-quality underwear. But you also get the added protection from EMF radiation that would otherwise put your fertility at risk.
Last but not least, you can also consider the SYB Cap while flying.
Humans are electrical beings. Our brains produce electrical signals to control our bodies and run numerous bodily systems. But, EMFs around us can interfere with those signals. This can cause us to develop a range of problems, including a weakened immune system, lowered healing ability, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
The way our SYB Cap works is simple. It contains EMF shielding materials that prevent electromagnetic waves from entering your brain, protecting you from developing these EMF-induced health problems.
The Fly Healthier Online Course
The Fly Healthier Online Course by Cathy Cooke, in collaboration with SYB, is designed to provide you with everything you need to know to keep your body healthy and resilient while traveling – specifically airline travel.
This 7-week online program contains:
- 7 in-depth video-based training modules, created and taught by Cathy Cooke, who is a Certified EMF Specialist, Certified Building Biologist, and Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition.
- Module 1 is available immediately on purchase, with the 6 additional modules released weekly.
- 1 full year of unlimited course access.
- 30+ PDF guides, handouts, and checklists for easy reference.
- Plus, bonus content including step-by-step instructions on how to test for EMF in your home or at your destination.
This course is packed with content and gives you step-by-step instructions on preparing your body for the flight, what to do while on the plane, and what to do after you land.
It’s highly recommended for anyone that wants to enjoy their travels more and reduce the health effects of flying.
Cosmic radiation is real, and it can cause a lot of problems. But that doesn’t mean you should completely stop flying out of fear. You’re undoubtedly exposed to cosmic radiation when you’re flying. But the good news is, there are steps you can take to Shield Your Body from those doses.
And, if you’re a frequent flyer, vulnerable to health problems, or simply concerned about adding yet another source of radiation to your already vast cumulative exposure, it’s certainly worth taking protective measures.
Right now, the biggest threat to our health is not cosmic radiation but what we generate in our daily lives. I’m talking about the human-made EMF that comes from our electronic gadgets and electrical appliances, and our need for constant improvement in the internet infrastructure.
That’s what you need to protect yourself and your loved ones from above all. But being protected from EMF doesn’t mean you have to quit the convenience of technology. You just have to learn how you can develop a healthier relationship with it.
Check out our show, “The Healthier Tech Podcast,” where experts from various industries talk about how you can live alongside technology in a healthier way. We’re available on all major platforms, and you can tune in today, absolutely free.