Health – Electrohypersensitivity and behaviour
Nature has not provided human being with any sensory organs to directly perceive weak electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic fields (Electromagnetic Fields - EMF). Nevertheless, time and time again, persons report that they are particularly susceptible to such fields.
Electrosensitivity and Electrosensibility
It is often distinguished between electrosensitivity and electrosensibility. Electrosensible persons perceive weak electromagnetic fields without necessarily developing health symptoms. The perception involves solely low frequency fields (mains current) and is based on a fine alignment of the downy hair in the electrical field. Electrosensitive persons directly link their health problems to electromagnetic fields. As a result they are therefore also known as electromagnetic hypersensitive (EHS).*
The following symptoms are most commonly mentioned by EHS patients:
- Concentration difficulties
- Skin irritations
The impairments described are very unspecific and cannot be associated to any standard symptoms. Electrohypersensitive persons Attribute them to low frequency fields, e.g. high tension power lines, and high frequency fields, e.g. mobile telephones or base stations. As there is no objective diagnosis, electrosensitivity is a subjective causal attribution of the affected person.
*There is still no single terminology for this in science. The World Health Organisation uses the general term “idiopathic environmental intolerance”. The term idiopathic is made up from the Greek words idios = one’s own and Pathos = suffering and means an illness without tangible causes.
In recent years, it was also investigated whether behavioural problems in children were associated with maternal mobile phone use during pregnancy. The current study findings are inconclusive. Some research revealed an association, other did not. The authors of the studies point out that limitations in their protocols may have shifted the results in either direction. Nevertheless, there is some weak evidence for a potential association between behavorial disorders in children an prenatal cell-phone use. A final conclusion, however, is not yet warranted.
The influence of EMF on electrohypersensitive persons has been investigated under controlled laboratory conditions as well as in the working place and at home in many studies. Most studies show that the persons concerned are not able to recognise EMFs, indeed they do not react more sensibly to EMFs than the rest of the population. On the whole no direct connection between EMFs and health complaints could be proved.
Today it is assumed that the complaints from which EHS persons suffer are caused by or influenced by various factors including:
- Stress and workload
- Fears of a possible impact on health
- Difficult private circumstances
- Negative environmental influences such as noise, indoor air or flickering light
- Illnesses from which the persons concerned are suffering.
Another open question concerns the causal mechanisms for the observed behavioural disorders in children. It remains unclear whether these problems, if the association with mobile phone use is real, are caused by the RF exposure or by behavioural differences between mothers with and without frequent phone use.
Electrohypersensitivity is characterised by a multitude of unspecific symptoms which differ from person to person. Although the health complaints are real and patients suffer from them, there is no scientific evidence, despite the patients’ assumptions, that electromagnetic fields cause the suffering. The ailments experienced require a fundamental medical investigation of the symptoms as well as a broad clarification of the possible causes in the working place and in the home.
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Health Council of the Netherlands: Electromagnetic Fields Committee (2009). Electromagnetic Fields. The Hague, Health Council of the Netherlands.
Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) (2012). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. U.K. Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire. Chapter 6, 232-256.
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Röösli, M., Mohler, E., Frei, P. (2010). Sense and sensibility in the context of radiofrequency elecromagnetic field exposure. C. R. Physique, 11, 576-584.
Rubin, G.J., Hillert L., Nieto-Hernandez R., van Rongen E., Oftedal G. (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, Article first published online: 18 JUL 2011, DOI: 10.1002/bem.20690
SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) (2015). Opinion on Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF). European Commission, Brussels. Sections 3.6.3 and 220.127.116.11.
WHO - World Health Organization. (2005). Electromagnetic fields and public health - Electromagnetic hypersensitivity. WHO fact sheet 296. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs296/en/index.html