Research

Electrohypersensitivity

Electrohypersensitivity (EHS) or electrical sensitivity is a condition reported by some people where they are extremely sensitive to electric or magnetic fields at a range of frequencies, not just from overhead lines, reacting to even quite low levels in various ways. There are a range of non-disease specific symptoms such as headaches and stress, ranging up to nausea and skin rashes. 


What do we know about EHS?


The symptoms experienced by the individual are often real and can in some instances cause significant impact to health and wellbeing. However, the causal relationship between EMF exposure and symptoms has not been proven, despite a number of studies. Due to the absence of scientific evidence, the term EHS is sometimes replaced with ‘Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance’ which is a specialist term that essentially means that EMF has no causation in the symptoms experienced.   

 

What conclusions do major health authorities make about EHS? 


Factsheet from WHO

In 2005, WHO issued a factsheet on electrical hypersensitivity (EHS). The conclusions are as follows:

“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.”

Review of issue in the UK 

In November 2005, the then UK Health Protection Agency (now UK Health Security Agency) published a report on electrical sensitivity or EHS.

The report focuses on power-frequency fields, but does briefly cover radio frequencies. Its main aim was to understand and describe the symptoms of EHS, not it’s causes, but it did conclude: 


“a recent review [ie NRPB 2004] .. found no compelling causal evidence for health effects…”

“the use of the term ES [electrical sensitivity] in this review does not imply the acceptance of a causal relationship between symptoms and attributed exposure, however.”

“While sufferers and their support groups are firmly convinced of a causal relationship with EMFs, the majority of mainstream scientific opinion does not consider there to be robust evidence of such a relationship. This position is supported by a recent systematic review of 31 blind or double-blind provocation studies…”

The report thoroughly reviews the existing literature of electrical sensitivity. Much of the literature comes from Nordic countries and Sweden in particular.

On treatment, the report is cautious about methods advocated by sufferers and their support groups, but suggests “some success” for psychologically based management strategies, and suggests the reported success of other strategies may be “more to do with offering a caring environment as opposed to a specific treatment.”
 

    The EU's European Economic and Social Committee decided to create an Opinion on electrohypersensitivity. This was in response to its perception of growing concerns among the European public and served to raise the profile of the issue, and specifically to encourage the European Commission to initiate some action. 

    To address this a workshop took place on 4 November 2014 in Brussels producing an Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ the conclusions included: 

    “1.1 The EESC acknowledges and is concerned about the prevalence of EHS. It is encouraged to note that further substantial research is ongoing to understand the problem and its causes. It also notes that SCENIHR (Preliminary opinion on Potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) SCENIHR 29.11.2013 — http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/docs/scenihr_o_041.pdf) has been extensively analysing this issue in recent years and will shortly be completing its latest opinion, having engaged extensively in public consultation.

    1.2. The EESC understands that the main conclusions of this report will not differ substantially from the preliminary opinion of 2013 which stated ‘Overall, there is evidence that exposure to radio-frequency fields does not cause symptoms or affect cognitive function in humans. The previous Scientific Committee’s opinion concluded that there were no adverse
    effects on reproduction and development from radiofrequency fields at exposure levels below existing limits. The inclusion of more recent human and animal data does not change that assessment.”

    1.3. This SCENIHR preliminary opinion also noted that new evidence, compared to its previous opinion of 2009, adds weight to the conclusion that radiofrequency exposure is not causally linked to symptoms. It notes that often the belief that the subject is being exposed (when they are not) is sufficient to trigger symptoms. 

    1.4. However, to allay continuing public concern and to uphold the precautionary principle the EESC urges the Commission to continue its work in this area particularly as further research is still needed to accumulate evidence concerning any potential health impact from long-term exposure, for example using a mobile phone for more than 20 years. 

    1.5. There remains the issue of public perception. For some individuals the prevalence of EMF is seen as a threat — in the workplace, to their families and in public spaces. Similar groups are equally concerned over multiple chemical exposure, widespread food intolerance or exposure to particles, fibres or bacteria in the environment. Such individuals need support, not only in dealing with actual illness symptoms but with the concerns they express about modern society. The Committee notes that EHS sufferers experience real symptoms. Efforts should be made to improve their health conditions with a focus on reducing disability as detailed in Biomedicine and Molecular Biosciences COST Action BM0704 (BMBS COST Action BM0704 Emerging EMF Technologies and Health Risk Management)."