Information kindly provided by www.powerwatch.org.uk
What is Electrical Hypersensitivity (EHS)?
Electrical hypersensitivity (EHS) is a combination of up to three factors:
- a natural sensitivity, similar to other idiopathic or allergic reactions, which is not typical of the general population.
- sensitisation by some trigger, which could be one, or more, of a variety of commonly encountered substances.
- sensitisation by some incident, which has the capability of damaging the bioelectrochemical communication within the body.
Some people are electrically sensitive, that is they are aware of the presence of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), but are not adversely affected by them. Other people may or may not be aware of the presence of EMFs, but can become seriously ill in their presence. These people we refer to as electrically hypersensitive (EHS). People who have developed EHS have a physiological disorder, characterized by neurological and idiopathic reactions, that noticeably appear or intensify near sources of EMFs such as electrical appliances, especially VDUs (computer monitors), power lines, fluorescent lights, mobile phones, cordless phones, wireless computers (wLANs), mobile phone base stations, etc.
Being EHS means experiencing recurring feelings of stress or illness when near an EMF source. Any noticeable, recurring ill health that is triggered by an electromagnetic field, and that diminishes or disappears away from the EMF source, constitutes a case of electrical hypersensitivity. While symptoms may diminish quickly after the exposure is reduced, it can take several days, weeks or occasionally months if the person has become severely sensitised, for the effects to disappear.
It is not yet known whether EHS is an independent condition, or a kind of Multiple Environmental Sensitivity Syndrome, linked possibly also to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome.
For EHS sufferers living in a high EMF environment, it is like a person with auditory sensitivity trying to carry on normal life with someone shouting in both ears all the time.
Many electrically sensitive people seem to have quite dry skin and can carry high electrostatic charges on their body. Not only can other people experience a 'zap' when touching the person, but the electrostatic charges can also be transferred to electronic equipment causing equipment to malfunction. This can sometimes give an appearance of clumsiness or ineptitude, which can lead to a lack of confidence in using electrical equipment. This is quite concerning when young people, even in pre-school nurseries, are being exposed to computers, and they may develop this sensitivity, which can lead to a lifelong lack of confidence and self-esteem problems.
How many people does EHS affect?
People who have EHS develop different symptoms, for reasons that are poorly understood. Some people will react to power-frequency electric fields, some to magnetic fields and some to both. They may (or they may not) also react to radiofrequency fields such as those transmitted by the mobile phone networks, some reacting to the phones, some to the masts, and some to both. Some people will only react to radiofrequency fields and not to power-frequency fields. Some people will even react to sunlight, another part of the EMF spectrum.
Because of this the condition is not an easy one to diagnose. People with EHS often cannot go into hospital, even to visit. Hospitals are full of electrically powered equipment, some giving off very high EMFs, and hospitals have fluorescent lights, a common trigger for EHS and intolerable to most EHS people.
The incidence of EHS seems to be slightly higher in women than in men, and there appear to be significant day to day variations in their sensitivity. Many people with EHS have lower incomes and may be unemployed. These variations may be explained, at least in part, by difference in Health and Safety practices, especially with regard to chemical (and other) exposures in lower paid jobs, and the fact that EHS can lead to the inability to work in a 'normal' environment.
The social, work and financial lives of EHS sufferers are likely to be affected by the fact that fluorescent lights are used in public offices (making it hard to make claims for, or to draw, Social Security benefits), shops, libraries, theatres, cinemas, concert halls, restaurants, churches, trains, trams and buses.
A study by the Irish Doctors Environmental Association reported that half the people reporting ill-health effects as a result of living near to mobile phone base stations were unable to work due to the severity of the symptoms. They also led a very restricted social life, feeling like 'prisoners' in their own homes, which were not always comfortable places for them to be either.
Even cars have electrical and electronic equipment (power wiring, fan motors, computerised controls and dashboards) that can disturb electrically hypersensitive people, especially in the front seat.
Many trains, railway stations and planes now contain wireless computing systems, so that passengers can access the internet 'on the move'. City centres are being covered by WiMAX systems, making access for EHS sufferers ever more difficult. Neighbours who are 'ham' radio operators can, even unwittingly, make an EHS neighbour's life almost unbearable. A nearby lamp-post height mobile phone mast can make a house uninhabitable by an EHS person. They may not even be able to go down a road where one of these masts is situated. This makes living a 'normal' life almost impossible in severe cases of EHS.
It is generally accepted that probably between 3% and 7% of the population are EHS to some degree and maybe up to 35% show some mild indications of electro-stress.
What are the initiators of EHS?
Electrical hypersensitivity can have a variety of causes; computer monitors (VDUs), fluorescent lights, mobile and cordless phones are believed to be among the most common initiators of the problem; working in high magnetic fields, MRI scans, wireless computing systems, chemical overload, 'closed head' injury, allergy, low energy lamps, trauma, electric shock, metallic implants, even lightning strikes are other initiators. Many people experience an abrupt onset of symptoms following exposure to a novel EMF such as fields associated with a new computer, a new phone or new fluorescent lights.
Working in high electromagnetic fields can produce sensitivity. Drivers of electric trains are members of a group in which hypersensitivity can lead to very dangerous consequences. 10 - 25% of UK train drivers report 'missing time', time in which they were unaware of their surroundings. However brief this 'absence' may be, if it is at a critical place, e.g. coming up to a red light, it is possible that this could lead to fatal accidents.
British biophysicist Peter Alexander said, "Once the individual is sensitized to an agent the initial aggressor is immaterial. The biological reaction will be the same to all agents." EHS commonly also develops with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Computer monitors, and many other electronic items, give off quite toxic volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) when the cases and electronic components 'burn in' from new.
According to the UK's Building Research Establishment, and a separate Australian study, new houses 1-2 years old can emit many times the level of potentially carcinogenic volatile organic compounds as houses built just 10 years ago. The sources include formaldehyde from treated wooden floors and furniture, toxic compounds from fresh paints and solvents, and hormone disrupting chemicals from carpets and vinyl flooring.
Try the questionnaire at the end which includes most of the symptoms experienced by people with electrical hypersensitivity.
Tips for avoiding electrical hypersensitivity
Reduction of exposure in the house
There are two main sources of EMFs inside the home. The house wiring, and electrical appliances. Check your house wiring to ensure that field levels where you sleep and sit for extended periods, the two places where your biological systems are at their most vulnerable, are low.
Check the levels from all electrical appliance, especially near the bed and those which have a motor and heater. If you are unsure keep all electrical appliances at least a meter away from your pillow (including un-earthed bedside lights), clock radios, TVs, etc. Cordless phones and mobile phones should not be in the bedroom as they both give off high fields. Cordless phones emit microwave radiation all the time, mobile phones emit at maximum strength intermittently when on standby, and the re-charging unit gives off power-frequency fields as well.
Do not use an induction hob in the kitchen, and keep your distance from all electrical appliances when in use, especially if you are pregnant, are attempting to conceive (men and women) or if you have a compromised immune system due to ill-health or age.
Reduction of exposure at work
Many offices are full of electronic and electric appliances, computers, faxes, printers, photocopiers, air conditioners, de-humidifiers, electric fans, etc. Phones and burglar alarms can use microwaves. Computers are increasingly networked using microwaves. All these can make working life unbearable for the EHS office worker.
In the community
Schools, hospitals, residential homes, shops are all full of fluorescent lighting and other equipment that can provoke idiopathic reactions in the EHS person, making their tolerance level even more sensitised. Most shops have electronic tills, and security tagging devices, for stock control and to prevent theft. All these can produce symptoms for the person with EHS.
Mobile phone street masts are springing up everywhere, in residential areas, city centres, shopping malls, train and bus stations. These can produce very severe symptoms in people with EHS.
All modern forms of transport (Cars, trains, trams, planes, buses and coaches) can have high levels of electromagnetic fields. Older cars, more basic planes are usually less of a problem. Trains are becoming more of a problem with the addition of wireless computing facilities on board and in stations.
Other things you might consider doing to keep as healthy as possible
People with EHS should wear clothes and shoes made of natural materials or even special conductive clothing and footwear that is made for workers in the electronics semiconductor industry. You need to have flooring that is made of natural material, as you build up static charges every time you move your feet. You should 'earth' yourself frequently, by touching metal objects, or walking barefoot on the earth. Drink plenty of 'good' water, extra to what you take in tea and coffee, which are diuretic. People in general suffer from sub-clinical de-hydration, and it seems to be more of a problem for people with EHS.
Some people with EHS benefit from many complementary health treatments. These have not had a lot of researched done, but there is some information in the book on EHS (below).
For further information see the EMFields website www.emfields.org for the range of Powerwatch publications, 'Electrical Hypersensitivity, a Modern Illness' which contains detailed references to the research mentioned in this article, and 'The Powerwatch Handbook' which has a chapter on avoiding EHS, and plenty of practical advice on reducing your exposure to potentially damaging electromagnetic fields.
Do EMF Shielding Products Really Work?
Many people have brought our attention to adverts for pendants, buttons, towers, etc. that claim they protect the wearer, or the house, from EMFs.
We have tested some of these, and our extensive range of instrumentation show no change whatsoever in electromagnetic fields as a consequence of wearing the item, putting it on a mobile phone or computer or putting it in a room where the electrically sensitive person sits. In fact some mains-driven towers can make the situation worse.
Most companies wrap up their claims in pseudo-scientific jargon, claiming research in some unrecognised 'scientific' institution, by some unheard of authority, with poor, to non-existent, research protocols, using units of scale or measurement that have been devised specially for the task. Pictures showing dramatic changes in blood composition, etc. may be on different scales and/or taken in different situations, making them impossible to compare. Unfortunately, the documentation can look quite convincing to somebody without the experience of making sense of scientific research, which we spend most of our working time doing.
Having said that, we freely admit that we are unable as yet to test any very subtle effects on the human immune system that many claim their item makes. Unfortunately the scientifically validatable instrumentation does not exist in most parts of the world to do this, whatever the claims may be.
Russia has a history of making some really major scientific breakthroughs in areas of the subtle sciences, as for a long time they were unable to match the financial inputs of many Western health services. It is certainly an interesting place to watch for new, very genuine, additions to our biological knowledge.
Meanwhile, we suggest two things. Whatever may (or may not) work at a subtle level, is less likely to be effective if you do not also address the gross infliction of EMFs on the human body. You need to remove these before the subtle energies of the body can have a chance at putting right any damage done. Then only buy gadgets with a money-back guarantee. If it works for you, keep it, if it doesn't return it and get your money back.
We realise that the person with EHS may need sveral weeks, even months, to feel the benfits of EMF reduction. We have no answer for that.
On the Powerwatch website FAQ section (on the menu on the left hand side of the homepage), Q11 (below) is a useful tool for evaluating the claims made by companies. This was a real-life promotion that was brought to our awareness.
11. How do I know whether I can trust the research done to support mobile phone EMF safety microchips?
Electrical Hypersensitivity Questionnaire
Do you suffer from electrical hypersensitivity?
Score as follows:
If you have the symptom described:
Frequently - score 2
Occasionally - score 1
Never - score 0
Do you suffer from:
- Numbness, weakness or prickling sensations in your joints or limbs
- Feelings of abnormal tiredness or weakness that cannot be explained by your life commitments
- Changes in your ability to think clearly or finding it difficult to concentrate, depending on where you are
- Aches and pains, cramps or muscle spasms in your joints, bones and muscles in your shoulders, arms, legs, feet, wrists, ankles, elbows and pelvis. Fibromyalgia
- Restlessness, anxiety
- Memory loss
- Sleep disturbance, insomnia
- Feebleness, dizziness, tremors
- A tendency to skin redness, itchiness, rashes, tingling or dry skin
- Abdominal pain, digestive problems, irregular bowel movements, sickness
- Feeling too hot, fever
- A smarting, irritating sensation, a pain, or a feeling as if there is grit in your eyes. Blurred vision or flickering before the eyes
- Nosebleeds or blood pressure changes
- Heart arrhythmias or irregularities, palpitations or chest pain
- Toothache or neuralgia
- Hair loss
- Hearing clicks, humming, buzzing, hissing or a high-pitched whine
- Sensitivity to light, especially fluorescent lights or computer screens (sometimes, though rarer, even daylight)
- Bouts of unusual irritability, rage, violence, destructiveness, feeling hostile
- Thyroid problems
- A generalised feeling of impending influenza that never quite breaks out
- 'Missing time', blackouts or convulsions.
If you scored 15 to 25 out of 50, you may be one of the 35 per cent of people suffering from some degree of electro-stress. If you scored more than 25, you may have developed EHS.
» Learn about the associated problem of "dirty electricity"