Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity

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Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) is a set of claims of adverse medical symptoms purportedly caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields. Other terms for IEI-EMF include electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), electrohypersensitivity, electro-sensitivity, and electrical sensitivity (ES).

Although the thermal effects of electromagnetic fields on the body are established, self-described sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity report responding to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (or electromagnetic radiation) at intensities well below the limits permitted by international radiation safety standards. The majority of provocation trials to date have found that self-described sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to distinguish between exposure to real and fake electromagnetic fields, and it is not recognized as a medical condition by the medical or scientific communities.

In 2011, the ‘BBC’ reported that some Americans with the condition had moved to the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, a large area of land surrounding the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia.

Sufferers report general and severe symptoms such as headache, fatigue, tinnitus, dizziness, memory deficits, irregular heart beat, and whole-body skin symptoms. A 2005 Health Protection Agency report noted the overlap in many sufferers with other syndromes known as symptom-based conditions, FSS (Functional Somatic Syndromes), and IEI (Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance also known as ‘multiple chemical sensitivity’). Health journalist Blake Levitt proposed ties between electromagnetic fields and some of these 20th-century maladies, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, and Autism.

Figures show that 1.9% of people report much annoyance from visual displays and fluorescent lighting. 2.4% report much or some annoyance with both any electrical factor and also chemicals or smells. A 1991 study by William J. Rea concluded that there is ‘strong evidence that electromagnetic field sensitivity exists.’ However, those reporting electromagnetic hypersensitivity will usually describe different levels of susceptibility to electric fields, magnetic fields, and various frequencies of electromagnetic waves (including fluorescent and low-energy lights, and microwaves from mobile, cordless/portable phones), and Wifi with no consistency in the severity of symptoms between sufferers. Other surveys of electromagnetic hypersensitivity sufferers have not been able to find any consistent pattern to these symptoms. Instead symptoms reflecting almost every part of the body have been attributed to electromagnetic field exposure.

A group of scientists also attempted to estimate the number of people reporting ‘subjective symptoms’ from electromagnetic fields for the European Commission. 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.’ Following a study conducted in 2005, the World Health Organization(WHO) concluded that: ‘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.’

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