Jump to content

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

Page protected with pending changes
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity
Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF), Electrohypersensitivity (EHS), Electro-sensitivity, Electrical sensitivity (ES), Wi-Fi allergy
Pseudomedical diagnosis

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is a claimed sensitivity to electromagnetic fields, to which negative symptoms are attributed. EHS has no scientific basis and is not a recognized medical diagnosis, although it is generally accepted that the experience of EHS symptoms is of psychosomatic origin. Claims are characterized by a "variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to electromagnetic fields".[1] Attempts to justify the claim that EHS is caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields have amounted to pseudoscience.[2]

Those who are self-described with EHS report adverse reactions to electromagnetic fields at intensities well below the maximum levels permitted by international radiation safety standards. Provocation trials have found that such claimants are unable to distinguish between exposure and non-exposure to electromagnetic fields.[3][4] A systematic review of medical research in 2011 found no convincing scientific evidence for symptoms being caused by electromagnetic fields.[3] Since then, several double-blind experiments have shown that people who report electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to detect the presence of electromagnetic fields and are as likely to report ill health following a sham exposure as they are following exposure to genuine electromagnetic fields, suggesting the cause in these cases is the nocebo effect.[5][6][7]

As of 2005, the WHO recommended that claims of EHS be clinically evaluated to determine and rule out alternative diagnoses for suffered symptoms.[1] Cognitive behavioral therapy and management of co-morbid psychiatric disorders may be helpful in managing the condition.[8]

Some people who feel they are sensitive to electromagnetic fields may seek to reduce their exposure or use alternative medicine.[9] Government agencies have enforced false advertising claims against companies selling devices to shield against EM radiation.[10][11]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

There are no specific symptoms associated with claims of EHS, and the reported symptoms range widely between individuals.[1] They include headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin prickling, burning sensations and rashes, pain and ache in muscles and many other health problems. In severe cases such symptoms can be a real and sometimes disabling problem for the affected person, causing psychological distress.[9] There is no scientific basis to link such symptoms to electromagnetic field exposure.[1]

The prevalence of some reported symptoms is geographically or culturally dependent and does not imply "a causal relationship between symptoms and attributed exposure".[12][13] Many such reported symptoms overlap with other syndromes known as symptom-based conditions, functional somatic syndromes, and IEI (idiopathic environmental intolerance).[12]

Those reporting electromagnetic hypersensitivity will usually describe different levels of susceptibility to electric fields, magnetic fields, and various frequencies of electromagnetic waves. Devices implicated include fluorescent and low-energy lights, mobile, cordless/portable phones, and Wi-Fi.[14] A 2001 survey found that people self-diagnosing as EHS related their symptoms most frequently to cell sites (74%), followed by mobile phones (36%), cordless phones (29%), and power lines (27%).[9] Surveys of people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity have not been able to find any consistent pattern to these symptoms.[9][14][15]


Most blinded conscious provocation studies have failed to show a correlation between exposure and symptoms. An example is a 2007 study where 17 individuals who showed symptoms in an open test were exposed variously to real mobile phones or sham ones. The individuals showed discomfort at the mobile phones regardless of whether the mobile phones were genuine or not.[16] These results suggest that psychological mechanisms play a role in causing or exacerbating EHS symptoms. In 2010, Rubin et al. published a follow-up to their 2005 review, bringing the totals to 46 double-blind experiments and 1175 individuals with self-diagnosed hypersensitivity.[17][18] Both reviews found no robust evidence to support the hypothesis that electromagnetic exposure causes EHS, as have other studies.[5][6] They also concluded that the studies supported the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in those with EHS.[4]


Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not an accepted diagnosis; medically there is no case definition or clinical practice guideline and there is no specific test to identify it, nor is there an agreed-upon definition with which to conduct clinical research.[19]

Complaints of electromagnetic hypersensitivity may mask organic or psychiatric illness: in a recent psychological model of mental disorder,[20] Sébastien Point proposed to consider it as a specific phobia. Diagnosis of those underlying conditions involves investigating and identifying possible known medical causes of any symptoms observed.[1] It may require both a thorough medical evaluation to identify and treat any specific conditions that may be responsible for the symptoms, and a psychological evaluation to identify alternative psychiatric/psychological conditions that may be responsible or contribute to the symptoms.[1][21]

Symptoms may also be brought on by imagining that exposure is causing harm, an example of the nocebo effect. Studies have shown that reports of symptoms are more closely associated with belief that one is being exposed than with any actual exposure.[5][6][22][23]


Whatever the cause of symptoms attributed to EHS, it can be a debilitating condition that benefits from treatment or management.[8] Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown some success helping people cope with the condition.[8]

As of 2005, WHO recommended that people presenting with claims of EHS be evaluated to determine if they have a medical condition that may be causing the symptoms the person is attributing to EHS, that they have a psychological evaluation, and that the person's environment be evaluated for issues like air or noise pollution that may be causing problems.[1]

A variety of pseudoscientific devices are marketed to those who fear that they are being harmed by electromagnetic fields.[24] The US Federal Trade Commission has warned about scams that involve selling products purported to protect against cell phone radiation.[25][24] In the UK, a product called 5GBioShield was identified by Trading Standards as a "scam" device. Its manufacturers claimed that it could mitigate harms from phone radiation, however British authorities determined that the device was merely a USB drive.[26]


In 1997, before Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3G technology, a group of scientists attempted to estimate the number of people reporting "subjective symptoms" from electromagnetic fields for the European Commission.[27] They estimated that electromagnetic sensitivity occurred in "less than a few cases per million of the population" (based on centres of occupational medicine in UK, Italy and France) or up to "a few tenths of a per cent of the population" (based on self-aid groups in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden). In 2005, the UK Health Protection Agency reviewed this and several other studies for prevalence figures and concluded that "the differences in prevalence were at least partly due to the differences in available information and media attention around electromagnetic hypersensitivity that exist in different countries" and that "Similar views have been expressed by other commentators".[12] The authors noted that most of the studies focused on computer monitors (VDUs), as such the "findings cannot apply in full" to other forms of EMF exposure such as radio waves from mobile phones/base stations.

In 2007, a UK survey aimed at a randomly selected group of 20,000 people found a prevalence of 4% for symptoms self-attributed to electromagnetic exposure.[28]

A 2013 study using telephone surveys in Taiwan, concluded that the rates of IEI-EMF were in decline within the country, despite previous expectations of a rise in prevalence as electronic devices became more widespread. Rates declined from 13% in 2007 to 5% in 2013.[29] The study also referred to apparent declines in the Netherlands (from 7% in 2009[30] to 4% in 2011[31]) and in Germany (from 10% in 2009[32] to 7% in 2013[32]). More women believed to be electromagnetically hypersensitive than men.[29]

In 2021, physicist Sébastien Point noted that the prevalence of electrohypersensitivity is similar to the prevalence of specific phobias as well as the gender ratio (2 electrohypersensitive or phobic female for one electrohypersensitive or phobic man), which, according to him, reinforces the hypothesis that electrohypersensitivity is a new specific phobia.[33]

Society and culture[edit]

In 2010, a cell tower operator in South Africa revealed at a public meeting that the tower that nearby residents were blaming for their current EHS symptoms had been turned off over six weeks prior to the meeting, thus making it a highly unlikely cause of EHS symptoms.[34]

In February 2014, the UK Advertising Standards Authority found that claims of harm from electromagnetic radiation, made in a product advertisement, were unsubstantiated and misleading.[11]

People have filed lawsuits to try to win damages due to harm claimed from electromagnetic radiation. In 2012, a New Mexico judge dismissed a lawsuit in which one person sued his neighbor, claiming to have been harmed by EM radiation from his neighbor's cordless telephones, dimmer switches, chargers, Wi-Fi and other devices. The plaintiff brought the testimony of his doctor, who also believed she had EHS, and a person who represented himself as a neurotoxicologist; the judge found none of their testimony credible.[35] In 2015, parents of a boy at a school in Southborough, Massachusetts, alleged that the school's Wi-Fi was making the boy sick.[35][36]

In November 2015, a depressed teenage girl in England died by suicide. This act was attributed to EHS by her parents and taken up by tabloids and EHS advocates.[37]

The public position of the EU's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) to the European Commission is that "new improved studies on the association between radio frequency fields from broadcast transmitters and childhood cancer provide evidence against such an association." However, "data on the health effects of intermediate frequency fields used, for example, in metal detectors or anti-theft devices in shops, are still lacking." The SCENIHR called for research to be continued.[38]

Some people who feel they are sensitive to electromagnetic fields self-treat by trying to reduce their exposure to electromagnetic sources by avoiding sources of exposure, disconnecting or removing electrical devices, shielding or screening of self or residence, and alternative medicine.[9] In Sweden, some municipalities provide disability grants to people who claim to have EHS in order to have abatement work done in their homes even though the public health authority does not recognize EHS as an actual medical condition; towns in Halland do not provide such funds and this decision was challenged and upheld in court.[39][40][41]

The United States National Radio Quiet Zone is an area where wireless signals are restricted for scientific research purposes, and some people who believe they have EHS have relocated there seeking relief.[42][43][44]

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and Director general of the World Health Organization, claims to have EHS.[45] In 2015, she said that she had been sensitive for 25 years.[46]

The 2022 documentary Electric Malady examines the life of a Swedish man called William who claims to have EHS.[47]

The crime drama television series Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad, features the character Chuck McGill, who claims to experience EHS.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity". WHO Factsheet 296. World Health Organisation (WHO). December 2005.
  2. ^ "Electromagnetic hypersensitivity".
  3. ^ a b Rubin, G. James; Hillert, Lena; Nieto-Hernandez, Rosa; van Rongen, Eric; Oftedal, Gunnhild (December 2011). "Do people with idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields display physiological effects when exposed to electromagnetic fields? A systematic review of provocation studies". Bioelectromagnetics. 32 (8): 593–609. doi:10.1002/bem.20690. ISSN 1521-186X. OCLC 5155348095. PMID 21769898. S2CID 29.
  4. ^ a b Röösli, Martin; Hug, Kerstin (2008). "Radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure and non-specific symptoms of ill health: a systematic review". Environ. Res. 107 (2): 277–287. Bibcode:2008ER....107..277R. doi:10.1007/s10354-011-0883-9. PMID 18359015. S2CID 35066893.
  5. ^ a b c Regel, Sabine; Negovetic, Sonja; Röösli, Martin; Berdiñas, Veronica; Schuderer, Jürgen; Huss, Anke; Lott, Urs; Kuster, Niels; Achermann, Peter (August 2006). "UMTS Base Station-like Exposure, Well-Being, and Cognitive Performance". Environ Health Perspect. 114 (8): 1270–1275. doi:10.1289/ehp.8934. PMC 1552030. PMID 16882538.
  6. ^ a b c Rubin, G. James; Hahn, Gareth; Everitt, Brian S.; Clear, Anthony J.; Wessely, Simon (2006). "Are some people sensitive to mobile phone signals? Within participants double blind randomised provocation study". British Medical Journal. 332 (7546): 886–889. doi:10.1136/bmj.38765.519850.55. PMC 1440612. PMID 16520326.
  7. ^ Wilén, Jonna; Johansson, Amanda; Kalezic, Nebojsa; Lyskov, Eugene; Sandström, Monica (2006). "Psychophysiological tests and provocation of subjects with mobile phone related symptoms". Bioelectromagnetics. 27 (3): 204–214. doi:10.1002/bem.20195. PMID 16304699. S2CID 39662872.
  8. ^ a b c Genuis, Stephen J.; Lipp, Christopher T. (2012). "Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: fact or fiction?". Sci Total Environ (Review). 414: 103–112. Bibcode:2012ScTEn.414..103G. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.11.008. PMID 22153604.
  9. ^ a b c d e Röösli, Martin; Moser, Mirjana; Baldinini, Yvonne; Meier, Martin; Braun-Fahrländer, Charlotte (February 2004). "Symptoms of ill health ascribed to electromagnetic field exposure – a questionnaire survey". International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 207 (2): 141–150. doi:10.1078/1438-4639-00269. PMID 15031956. S2CID 6077907.
  10. ^ Fair, Lesley (1 March 2008). "Federal Trade Commission Advertising Enforcement" (PDF). Federal Trade Commission. pp. 18–19.
  11. ^ a b "ASA Ruling on The Healthy House Ltd". UK Advertising Standards Authority. 19 February 2014.
  12. ^ a b c "Definition, epidemiology and management of electrical sensitivity", Irvine, N, Report for the Radiation Protection Division of the UK Health Protection Agency, HPA-RPD-010, 2005
  13. ^ Sage, Cindy. "Microwave And Radiofrequency Radiation Exposure: A Growing Environmental Health Crisis?". San Francisco Medical Society web page. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
  14. ^ a b Philips, Alasdair and Jean (2003–2011). Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) (in 8 sections)
  15. ^ Hillert, Lena; Berglind, Niklas; Arnetz, Bengt B.; Bellander, Tom (February 2002). "Prevalence of self-reported hypersensitivity to electric or magnetic fields in a population-based questionnaire survey". Scand J Work Environ Health. 28 (1): 33–41. doi:10.5271/sjweh.644. PMID 11871850.
  16. ^ G Oftedal; et al. (May 2007). "Mobile Phone Headache: A Double Blind, Sham-Controlled Provocation Study". Cephalalgia. 27 (5). Sage Pub: 447–455. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2982.2007.01336.x. PMID 17359515. S2CID 31156109.
  17. ^ Rubin, G. James; Munshi, Jayati Das; Wessely, Simon (2005). "Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: a systematic review of provocation studies". Psychosom Med. 67 (2): 224–232. CiteSeerX doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000155664.13300.64. PMID 15784787. S2CID 13826364.
  18. ^ Rubin, James; Nieto-Hernandez, Rosa; Wessely, Simon (2010). "Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields". Bioelectromagnetics. 31 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1002/bem.20536. PMID 19681059. S2CID 10993481.
  19. ^ Baliatsas, Christos; Van Kamp, Irene; Lebret, Erik; Rubin, G. James (2012). "Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF): a systematic review of identifying criteria". BMC Public Health (Systematic review). 12: 643. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-643. PMC 3504528. PMID 22883305.
  20. ^ Point, Sebastien (January–February 2020). "Advocacy For A Cognitive Approach To Electrohypersensitivity Syndrome". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 44, no. 1. Amherst, NY: Center for Inquiry. pp. 47–50.
  21. ^ Rubin, G. James; Cleare, Anthony J.; Wessely, Simon (January 2008). "Psychological factors associated with self-reported sensitivity to mobile phones". Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 64 (1): 1–9, discussion 11–22. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2007.05.006. PMID 18157992. S2CID 6562686.
  22. ^ Wilén, Jonna; Johansson, Amanda; Kalezic, Nebojsa; Lyskov, Eugene; Sandström, Monica (2006). "Psychophysiological tests and provocation of subjects with mobile phone related symptoms". Bioelectromagnetics. 27 (3): 204–214. doi:10.1002/bem.20195. PMID 16304699. S2CID 39662872.
  23. ^ Dunning, Brian (30 October 2007). "Skeptoid #72: Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Real or Imagined?". Skeptoid. Retrieved 27 December 2016. The ability of a human brain to convince itself of just about anything is not to be underestimated. If you believe yourself to be electrosensitive, then you will be, quite literally, whenever you (think that you) perceive the presence of electromagnetism... you will actually suffer measurable physical symptoms and can potentially become acutely ill.
  24. ^ a b Haime, Jordyn (17 May 2022). "How fears of electromagnetic radiation spawned a snake-oil industry". The Verge. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  25. ^ "FTC Offers Tips to Help Consumers Avoid Cell Phone Radiation Scams". Federal Trade Commission. 16 June 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  26. ^ Cellan-Jones, Rory (28 May 2020). "Trading Standards squad targets anti-5G USB stick". BBC News. Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  27. ^ Bergqvist, Ulf; Vogel, Evi; Aringer, Leif; Cunningham, Joe; Gobba, Fabriziomaria; Leitgeb, Norbert; Miro, Luis; Neubauer, Georg; Ruppe, Ingeburg; Vecchia, Paolo; Wadman, Cecilia (1997). "Possible health implications of subjective symptoms and electromagnetic fields. A report prepared by a European group of experts for the European Commission, DG V". Arbete och Hälsa. 19. ISSN 0346-7821. OCLC 709978351.
  28. ^ Eltiti, Stacy; Wallace, Denise; Zougkou, Konstantina; Russo, Riccardo; Joseph, Stephen; Rasor, Paul; Fox, Elaine (February 2007). "Development and evaluation of the electromagnetic hypersensitivity questionnaire". Bioelectromagnetics. 28 (2): 137–151. doi:10.1002/bem.20279. PMID 17013888. S2CID 15932877.
  29. ^ a b Huang, Po-Chien; Cheng, Meng-Ting; Guo, How-Ran (2018). "Representative survey on idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields in Taiwan and comparison with the international literature". Environ Health (Review). 17 (1): 5. Bibcode:2018EnvHe..17....5H. doi:10.1186/s12940-018-0351-8. PMC 5769530. PMID 29334987.
  30. ^ van Dongen, Diana; Smid, Tjabe; Timmermans, Danielle (2014). "Symptom attribution and risk perception in individuals with idiopathic environmental intolerance to electromagnetic fields and in the general population". Perspectives in Public Health. 134 (3). Perspect Public Health: 134:160–168. doi:10.1177/1757913913492931. PMID 23912159. S2CID 2995533.
  31. ^ Baliatsas, Christos; van Kamp, Irene; Hooiveld, Mariette; Yzermans, Joris; Lebret, Erik (2014). "Comparing non-specific physical symptoms in environmentally sensitive patients: prevalence, duration, functional status and illness behavior". Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 76 (5): 405–413. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2014.02.008. PMID 24745783. S2CID 167319.
  32. ^ a b Lauff H, Wachenfeld A. Abschlussbericht (2014). "Differenzierte Betrachtung der Nutzung und der Wahrnehmung des Mobilfunks" (PDF). Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (BFS): BfS-RESFOR-88/14. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  33. ^ Sébastien Point, Electrohypersensitivity as a new psychological disorder, Skeptic, Vol.26 n°4, 2021
  34. ^ "Massive revelation in iBurst tower battle". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  35. ^ a b Barrett, Stephen (28 August 2015). "'Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity' Is Not a Valid Diagnosis". Quackwatch. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  36. ^ O'Connell, Scott (18 January 2016). "Wi-Fi lawsuit against Southboro's Fay School is headed to trial". The Telegram.
  37. ^ Gorski, David (7 December 2015). "'Electromagnetic hypersensitivity' and 'wifi allergies': Bogus diagnoses with tragic real world consequences". Science-Based Medicine.
  38. ^ "Electromagnetic field emissions addressed by EU standards". 25 June 2009.
  39. ^ Johansson, Olle (2015). "Electrohypersensitivity: a functional impairment due to an inaccessible environment". Reviews on Environmental Health. 30 (4): 311–321. doi:10.1515/reveh-2015-0018. PMID 26613327. S2CID 39702466.
  40. ^ "Inga bidrag ges till elsanering i Halland – P4 Halland". Sveriges Radio (in Swedish). 31 July 2007.
  41. ^ Berglind-Dehlin, Henrik (3 January 2016). "Kommuner erbjuder fortfarande elsanering". SVT Nyheter. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  42. ^ O'Brien, Jane; Danzico, Matt (12 September 2011). "'Wi-fi refugees' shelter in West Virginia mountains". BBC News. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  43. ^ Stromberg, Joseph (12 April 2013). "Green Bank, W.V., where the electrosensitive can escape the modern world". Slate. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  44. ^ Gaynor, Michael (January 2015). "The Town Without Wi-Fi". Washingtonian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  45. ^ Dalsegg, Aud (9 March 2002). "Får hodesmerter av mobilstråling". dagbladet.no (in Norwegian). Retrieved 7 July 2023.
  46. ^ Tjernshaugen, Karen (14 August 2015). "Brundtland – Min kropp har reagert på mobilstråling i 25 år". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  47. ^ Clarke, Cath (1 March 2023). "Electric Malady review – life under a blanket for man who fears 'electrosenstivity'". The Guardian.
  48. ^ Rubin, James; Wessely, Simon (15 February 2015). "Better Call Saul: is electromagnetic hypersensitivity a real health risk?". The Guardian.

External links[edit]