Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) may seem like stuff straight out of science fiction, yet you would be astonished to discover how many people allegedly suffer from this condition. This Buzzle post discusses what EHS is, explores its syndromes, and tries to find out whether indeed it’s a fact or simply fiction.
Did You Know?
According to surveys and findings, depending on the location and subject to the variable definitions of it, electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is estimated to be prevalent anywhere from a few cases per million to five percent of the population.
EHS is a condition wherein a sufferer when exposed to electromagnetic radiations of any kind, tends to develop health problems and other physical issues. Some of the common symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity reported by people who suffer from EHS include the following:
- sleep disturbance
- concentration problems
- learning difficulties
- susceptibility to infections
- blood pressure abnormalities
- limb and joint pains
- numbness or tingling sensations
- hearing loss
- impaired balance
- giddiness and eye problems
Rarely some people have even reported to have developed serious cardiovascular issues owing to exposure to electromagnetic radiation. Many of these symptoms of EHS seem to coincide with those of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). The reason behind this, it is believed, is that the susceptible members of the population tend to develop these symptoms in the presence of both radiations and chemicals in their environment.
Most members of the medical fraternity view EHS skeptically. The main reason being that almost everyone of us is bombarded with a variety of radiation from innumerable sources all day long. Apart from the artificial ones, these sources also include natural ones such as light from the Sun, and even the Earth’s own magnetic field. These should have similar effects on the sufferers as the artificial ones which, in essence, are nothing more than pulsed versions of them. And yet, we don’t find the majority complaining about EHS-related health problems.
A more plausible explanation to why some people suffer from EHS is that they may be allergic to certain frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. There are several examples of similar conditions such as photosensitive epilepsy―a rare condition, wherein a visual stimulus by certain frequencies of light, sends the patient into an epileptic seizure. People suffering from photosensitive epilepsy, usually, are normal when exposed to natural/normal light, but experience a seizure, typically when exposed to intense flashes of light at frequencies between 16-25 MHz. This condition has been reported only in modern times when technology has developed devices such as TV displays and computer monitors, which are capable of producing light frequencies that can trigger epileptic fits.
Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation
As noted above, there are a vast number of potential sources of EMF radiation around us. However, the following sources are cited by many sufferers to be the main culprits responsible for triggering EHS in them.
Power-frequency emfs is a term used to describe electric and magnetic fields that are produced by power lines, electricity distribution substations, faults, motorized electrical alliances, high-power wiring, cars, trains etc. Several people have attributed their symptoms and health problems to living/working in proximity to such devices for a prolonged duration.
Milder EHS symptoms have been reported by exposure to common appliances such as TV and computers. Some sufferers state that the different types of artificial lighting, especially the fluorescent ones, trigger and aggravate their EHS symptoms. Cars, trams, planes, trains etc., too are known to comprise machinery that emit a significant amount of EMF radiations, which hyper-sensitive individuals might find difficult to cope with.
In a few cases, people living near power lines and/or working in proximity of power grids have reportedly accused daily exposure to radiations for the development of cancer and tumors in their bodies.
In the early 20th century, man-made radio frequencies were first used by the military in radars and weapons. The general public, by and large, however, was not affected by its use.
In the later half of the 20th century, the use of RF was already noticeable in a few everyday devices and gadgets, but it was in the 1990s that, with the advent of the mobile phones, there was an exponential growth in the exposure of civilians to RF.
Today, we live in an RF environment much different than what existed a few decades ago. There are countless gadgets including mobiles, tablets, gaming consoles, cordless telephones etc., which fill the world around us with a near infinite number of radio waves.
While the level of exposure to these waves is surely monitored and kept in check by guidelines put forth by various authorities, the fact remains that in terms of human evolution, never has our species been more exposed to such elements than now.
Therefore, there does lie a possibility that at least a few of us might not be able to tolerate this extreme amount of exposure.
In 2006, a neurobiologist Hugo Schooneveld, who himself suffers from EHS, demonstrated the effects of different frequencies of radiations on different people, before the Dutch working group on EHS.
He verified that not every sufferer experiences the symptoms with the same intensity, and that in many individuals, symptoms may develop only after a particular duration of time and also exposure. He also showed how, in some people, exposure to the very low and very high amounts of radiation may not have any effect, while in-between exposures may trigger EHS symptoms.
Finally, based on his substantial clinical experience, he also concluded that albeit EMF radiations might cause only minuscule effects on the cellular level, these effects multiply leading to the development of a major issue on the organ level.
Provocation studies involve exposing the participants to both real and fake sources of EMF, and studying their reaction to both, while making sure that at no time are they aware which one is which. The basic aim of these studies is to get to the root of what causes EHS.
Several provocative studies on the effects of radiation on people have shown that there is a significant psychological factor at play. It was observed that several participants developed the same symptoms in response to both real and fake radiations. Scientists call this the ‘placebo’ effect.
The placebo effect shows that if an individual has a genuine fear of something (radiation in this case), that alone is sufficient for them to develop actual physical effects in response to exposure. It further explains that if a subset of the general population, with the help of media coverage or some other means, is led to believe that radiations can affect their health, they might actually start developing symptoms in response.
Since a majority of the medical community doesn’t recognize EHS as a valid disorder, there isn’t a direct line of treatment available for it. Also, the non-uniformity of the symptoms seen among sufferers further adds to the complication of finding an effective cure, but they are a rare minority.
Is Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Real or Fake?
The World Health Organization has reached the following conclusion with regards to EHS:
EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms that differ from individual to individual. The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual. EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.
To simply call EHS a fake condition would be apathetic. There might be evidence against it, but we simply cannot turn a deaf ear to the growing hue and cry of the sufferers. Whether psychological or otherwise, it is necessary that EHS be recognized as a legitimate condition, and appropriate measures be taken to treat the ones who suffer from it. At the same time, scientists, governments, and other major health organizations should all come together and pool their resources while trying to get to the bottom of this ‘disease’ of modern times.