“Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” is real; no scientific basis to link it with Electromagnetic Field exposure

“Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” is real; no scientific basis to link it with Electromagnetic Field  exposure

By Dr K S Parthasarathy

RESEARCHERS FROM the King’s College London studied 60 `sensitive’ people who claimed that they get headache-like symptoms within 20 minutes of using a mobile phone and 60 `control’ participants who did not report such symptoms.

They found no evidence to indicate such sensitivity as reported in the British Medical Journal (April 15, 2006). The `sensitive’ people could not detect such signals nor did they react to them with increased symptom severity.

A sham exposure in which no signal is present was enough to trigger severe symptoms in some participants. Scientists surmised that psychological factors may have an important role in causing this condition.

The WHO held a  workshop on Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity in Prague  on October 25-27, 2004  The foreword  to the proceedings of the symposium described  EHS thus:

“Sensitivity to EMF has been given the general name “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” or EHS. It comprises nervous system symptoms like headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin symptoms like prickling, burning sensations and rashes, pain and ache in muscles and many other health problems. Whatever its cause, EHS is a real and sometimes a disabling problem for the affected persons. Their EMF exposure is generally several orders of magnitude under the limits of internationally accepted standards.”

At the very outset the working group proposed to replace the term EHS with  “Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI) with attribution to EMF” since EHS implies that a causal relationship has been established between the reported symptoms and EMF.

The workshop concluded thus:

IEI incorporates a number of disorders sharing similar non-specific medically

unexplained symptoms that adversely affect people and cause disruptions in their

occupational, social, and personal functioning.

The majority of studies indicate that IEI individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any

more accurately than non-IEI individuals. By and large well controlled and conducted

double-blind studies have shown that symptoms do not seem to be correlated with EMF


There are also some indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing

psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about believed

EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself. It was added that IEI should

not be used as a medical diagnosis since there is presently no scientific basis to link IEI

symptoms to EMF exposure“.


About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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