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Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

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

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 recognised medical diagnosis. Claims are characterized by a "variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to electromagnetic fields".[1]

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. The majority of provocation trials to date have found that such claimants are unable to distinguish between exposure and non-exposure to electromagnetic fields.[2][3] A systematic review in 2005 showed no convincing scientific evidence for symptoms being caused by electromagnetic fields.[2] 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 to be the nocebo effect.[4][5][6]

As of 2005 the 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] Cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful in managing the condition.[7]

Some people who feel they are sensitive to electromagnetic fields may seek to reduce their exposure or use alternative medicine.[8] Government agencies have enforced false advertising claims against companies selling devices to shield against EM radiation.[9][10]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

There are no specific symptoms associated with claims of EHS and 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.[8] 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".[11][12] Many such reported symptoms overlap with other syndromes known as symptom-based conditions, functional somatic syndromes, and IEI (idiopathic environmental intolerance).[11]

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.[13] A 2001 survey found that people self-diagnosing as EHS related their symptoms most frequently to mobile phone base stations (74%), followed by mobile phones (36%), cordless phones (29%), and power lines (27%).[8] Surveys of electromagnetic hypersensitivity sufferers have not been able to find any consistent pattern to these symptoms.[8][13][14]

Causes[edit]

Most blinded conscious provocation studies have failed to show a correlation between exposure and symptoms, leading to the suggestion 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.[2][15] Both reviews found no robust evidence to support the hypothesis that electromagnetic exposure causes EHS, as have other studies.[4][5] They also concluded that the studies supported the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in those with EHS.[3]

Diagnosis[edit]

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.[16]

Complaints of electromagnetic hypersensitivity may mask organic or psychiatric illness. 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][17]

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.[4][5][6][18]

Management[edit]

No matter what the cause of EHS, there is no doubt that it can be a debilitating condition that benefits from treatment or management.[7] Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown some success helping people cope with the condition.[7]

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]

Prevalence[edit]

As of 2018 the number of cases of EHS was in decline, defying previous expectations of a rise as electronic devices became more widespread.[19] People seemed to be turning their attention to other environmental concerns, such as air pollution.[19] Overall women identified as being electromagnetically hypersensitive more than men.[19]

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.[20]

In 1997 A group of scientists attempted to estimate the number of people reporting "subjective symptoms" from electromagnetic fields for the European Commission.[21] In the words of a HPA review, they 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. Similar views have been expressed by other commentators."[11]

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.[22][23]

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.[10]

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.[24] In 2015, parents of a boy at a school in Southborough, Massachusetts alleged that the school's Wi-Fi was making the boy sick.[24][25]

In November 2015, a depressed teenage girl in England committed suicide. Her suicide was attributed to EHS by her parents and taken up by tabloids and EHS advocates.[26]

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.[8] 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.[27][28][29]

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.[30][31][32]

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and Director general of the World Health Organization, claims to suffer from EHS.[33] In 2015 she said that she had been sensitive for 25 years.[34]

In the fictional television crime drama Better Call Saul, the character Charles "Chuck" McGill is depicted as experiencing the symptoms of EHS. In the episode Alpine Shepherd Boy, a skeptical doctor surreptitiously operates a switch controlling the electronics in Chuck's hospital bed. This does not affect his symptoms, suggesting that his electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not genuine.[35] A similar instance of Chuck's symptoms being objectively psychosomatic is seen on the episode Chicanery.[36] Although a fully charged cellphone battery is planted on his person without his knowledge,[37] Chuck experiences no adverse effects by having an electronic device on his body for close to two hours. When this fact is revealed to him, he is profoundly shaken, and comes to see "beyond a shadow of a doubt"[38] that his symptoms are an indication of mental disease spurred on by past emotional trauma,[39] rather than EHS.

See also[edit]

References[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. Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  2. ^ a b c Rubin GJ, Das Munshi J, Wessely S (2005). "Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: a systematic review of provocation studies". Psychosom Med. 67 (2): 224–32. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.543.1328. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000155664.13300.64. PMID 15784787.
  3. ^ a b Röösli M (2008). "Radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure and non-specific symptoms of ill health: a systematic review". Environ. Res. 107 (2): 277–87. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2008.02.003. PMID 18359015.
  4. ^ a b c Sabine Regel; Sonja Negovetic; Martin Röösli; Veronica Berdiñas; Jürgen Schuderer; Anke Huss; Urs Lott; Niels Kuster; Peter Achermann (August 2006). "UMTS Base Station-like Exposure, Well-Being, and Cognitive Performance". Environ Health Perspect. 114 (8): 1270–75. doi:10.1289/ehp.8934. PMC 1552030. PMID 16882538. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10.
  5. ^ a b c J Rubin; G Hahn; BS Everitt; AJ Clear; Simon Wessely (2006). "Are some people sensitive to mobile phone signals? Within participants double blind randomised provocation study". British Medical Journal. 332 (7546): 886–89. doi:10.1136/bmj.38765.519850.55. PMC 1440612. PMID 16520326.
  6. ^ a b Wilén J, Johansson A, Kalezic N, Lyskov E, Sandström M (2006). "Psychophysiological tests and provocation of subjects with mobile phone related symptoms". Bioelectromagnetics. 27 (3): 204–14. doi:10.1002/bem.20195. PMID 16304699.
  7. ^ a b c Genuis SJ, Lipp CT (2012). "Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: fact or fiction?". Sci Total Environ (Review). 414: 103–12. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.11.008. PMID 22153604.
  8. ^ a b c d e Röösli, Martin; M Moser; Y Baldinini; M Meier; C Braun-Fahrländer (February 2004). "Symptoms of ill health ascribed to electromagnetic field exposure – a questionnaire survey". Int J Hyg Environ Health. 207 (2): 141–50. doi:10.1078/1438-4639-00269. PMID 15031956.
  9. ^ Fair, Lesley (March 1, 2008). "Federal Trade Commission Advertising Enforcement" (PDF). Federal Trade Commission. pp. 18–19.
  10. ^ a b "ASA Ruling on The Healthy House Ltd". UK Advertising Standards Authority. 19 February 2014.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Sage, Cindy. "Microwave And Radiofrequency Radiation Exposure: A Growing Environmental Health Crisis?". San Francisco Medical Society web page. Archived from the original on 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  13. ^ a b Philips, Alasdair and Jean (2003–2011). Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) (in 8 sections)
  14. ^ Hillert, L; N Berglind; BB Arnetz; T Bellander (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.
  15. ^ James Rubin; Rosa Nieto-Hernandez; Simon Wessely (2010). "Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields". Bioelectromagnetics. 31 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1002/bem.20536. PMID 19681059.
  16. ^ Baliatsas C, Van Kamp I, Lebret E, Rubin GJ (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.
  17. ^ Rubin GJ, Cleare AJ, Wessely S (January 2008). "Psychological factors associated with self-reported sensitivity to mobile phones". J Psychosom Res. 64 (1): 1–9, discussion 11–2. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2007.05.006. PMID 18157992.
  18. ^ Dunning, Brian. "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.
  19. ^ a b c Huang PC; Cheng MT; Guo HR (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. doi:10.1186/s12940-018-0351-8. PMC 5769530. PMID 29334987.
  20. ^ Eltiti S, Wallace D, Zougkou K, et al. (February 2007). "Development and evaluation of the electromagnetic hypersensitivity questionnaire". Bioelectromagnetics. 28 (2): 137–51. doi:10.1002/bem.20279. PMID 17013888.
  21. ^ Bergqvist, U; Vogel, E; Aringer, L; Cunningham, J; Gobba, F; Leitgeb, N; Miro, L; Neubauer, G; Ruppe, I; Vecchia, P; Wadman, C (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.
  22. ^ "Massive revelation in iBurst tower battle". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  23. ^ "Electrosensitives tortured by a radio tower that had been switched off for six weeks". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  24. ^ a b Barrett, Stephen (August 28, 2015). ""Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity" Is Not a Valid Diagnosis". Quackwatch. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  25. ^ O'Connell, Scott (January 18, 2016). "Wi-Fi lawsuit against Southboro's Fay School is headed to trial". The Telegram.
  26. ^ Gorski, David (December 7, 2015). ""Electromagnetic hypersensitivity" and "wifi allergies": Bogus diagnoses with tragic real world consequences". Science-Based Medicine.
  27. ^ Johansson, O (2015). "Electrohypersensitivity: a functional impairment due to an inaccessible environment". Reviews on Environmental Health. 30 (4): 311–21. doi:10.1515/reveh-2015-0018. PMID 26613327.
  28. ^ "Inga bidrag ges till elsanering i Halland – P4 Halland". Sveriges Radio (in Swedish). 31 July 2007.
  29. ^ "Kommuner erbjuder fortfarande elsanering". svt.se. 2016-01-03. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  30. ^ O'Brien, Jane; Danzico, Matt (September 12, 2011). "'Wi-fi refugees' shelter in West Virginia mountains". BBC News. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
  31. ^ Stromberg, Joseph (12 April 2013). "Green Bank, W.V., where the electrosensitive can escape the modern world". Slate. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  32. ^ Gaynor, Michael (January 2015). "The Town Without Wi-Fi". Washingtonian. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  33. ^ Aud Dalsegg; Får hodesmerter av mobilstråling, Daglbadet, 9 March 2002 (In Norwegian). (retrieved 1 May 2018)
  34. ^ Tjernshaugen, Karen (14 August 2015). "Brundtland: - Min kropp har reagert på mobilstråling i 25 år". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  35. ^ "Alpine Shepherd Boy". Better Call Saul. Season 1. Episode 5. March 2, 2015. 44 minutes in. AMC.
  36. ^ "Chicanery". Better Call Saul. Season 3. Episode 5. May 8, 2017. 49 minutes in. AMC.
  37. ^ Script of Episode, Chicanery
  38. ^ "Slip". Better Call Saul. Season 3. Episode 8. June 5, 2017. 48 minutes in. AMC.
  39. ^ Script of Episode, Slip

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