AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Normal Use of Headphones Unlikely to Interfere with Settings of Magnetically Programmable Shunt Valves

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Researchers from Brown University recently examined three magnetically programmable shunt valves to see if the magnetic field emissions of headphones can cause unintentional changes in shunt valve settings. A variety of everyday objects emit electromagnetic fields that can potentially affect magnetically programmable shunt valve settings if brought too close to the valve. Examples include the Apple iPad 2 and household magnets, such as those found on refrigerator doors. Patients need to keep a safe distance between their heads and these objects. As far as the authors knew, there was no previous study to determine whether headphones affect magnetically programmable shunt valve settings. Given that the wearing of headphones has become ubiquitous and headphones are placed quite near the location of most shunt valves, researchers decided to test whether potential problems exist. The researchers used three programmable shunt valves that are widely used to treat hydrocephalus to test the effects of three popular headphones (Apple earbuds, Beats by Dr. Dre, and Bose QuietComfort® Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones). Electromagnetic field emissions from the headphones were examined using a direct-current gaussmeter. The researchers measured electromagnetic field emissions at distances ranging from 0 to 50 millimeters away from the headphones. All measurements were taken three times, and the mean emissions detected at the various distances were recorded. The gaussmeter detected high magnetic field emissions at 0 millimeters, but the emission levels dropped down quickly as the gaussmeter was moved away from the headphones. Results of the study showed that headphones are unlikely to reprogram shunts. “Neurosurgeons should be aware that the potential for shunt reprogramming in patients using headphones is remote unless a headphone is in direct contact with a programmable shunt valve or there is tangential movement of a headphone around a valve … Shunts are more likely to fail from obstruction, infection, or valve failure than from reprogramming from magnets,” said the study’s lead researcher. To read more about this study, click here.

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