What is Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity? Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

What is Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity? Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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There is a large and growing body of evidence from high quality, peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrating the links between exposure to low powered electromagnetic radiation (EMF, from devices like cell phones and wifi) and numerous negative health effects including cancer, infertility and sleep disruption. But some people are even more vulnerable to damage from EMF – those who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. What is EHS? How is it diagnosed? And what are the treatments?

What is Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity?

Electrohypersensitivity Diagnosis
Tim Hallam, 36, sleeps in a custom-made silver-coated sleeping bag that helps block out electromagnetic fields. Photograph: Thomas Ball

Why would someone line their room with thin layers of tin foil and spend close to £1,000 (about $1,300) to do it? Because that person has an electrohypersensitivity diagnosis. 

With all the human-made EMF radiation surrounding us, there are bound to be side effects. After all, in modern society, we’re continually exposed to a constantly growing amount of this radiation – levels that life did not evolve to cope with. Modern EMF exposure is many orders of magnitude greater than naturally-occurring EMF.

Electrohypersensitivity syndrome (or EHS) is a highly controversial topic in the field of medicine. EHS is a collection of symptoms that many believe result from continued exposure to EMF radiation.

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity is Similar to an Allergy

You or someone you know may have a food allergy. For example, you might be sensitive to peanuts or gluten. And when you’re accidentally exposed to some of that trigger food – possibly even just trace amounts of it – you might suffer severe negative health effects. In fact, in some circumstances, food allergies can be lethal.

Well, imagine if instead of being allergic to food, you were allergic to wifi. That’s what electrosensitivity is: your body reacts very negatively to the invisible force of electromagnetic radiation. It’s a way in which EMF alters and weakens your body’s immune system.

Symptoms of Electrosensitivity

There are a wide range of symptoms reported by those who experience EHS. These include headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin prickling, burning sensations and rashes, muscle aches, and many other health problems. 

The World Health Organization lists the symptoms as including “fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances.”

So, as you can see, there is a very wide variety of reported symptoms. Personally, I do not find this surprising, as our entire body is an electromagnetic being, and all of our body’s systems run on, or are controlled by, electromagnetic currents and signals.

In some cases, the symptoms are so extreme that those who suffer from EHS find themselves unable to function, to work, or to participate in society.

“It’s so hard to get away from, and it’s taken a toll on my life,” explains Tim Hallam, the UK citizen with EHS who lined his bedroom with £1,000 of EMF shielding.

EHS Is Not a New Problem

While EHS may be a relatively new term, it is not a new condition.

Back in 1970, the Soviet Union issued a report documenting the incidence of what they termed “microwave syndrome” in their military following the rollout of RADAR during World War II. The symptoms of microwave syndrome are the same as reported by EHS sufferers.

In fact, the Soviets realized this condition was so real, that they weaponized it by irradiating the US Embassy in Moscow with microwaves during the period 1953-1975, leading to numerous reports of microwave syndrome.

(Russia may be continuing the use of such microwave weaponry, as is suspected in the recent wave of illness suffered by US embassy staff in Cuba.)

And in the 1960s, Dr. Allan Frey discovered the existence of the microwave auditory effect, or what has become known as the Frey Effect. 

The Frey effect occurs when people start to hear noises – the sound of clicks, or even speech – when they are exposed to microwave radiation. The condition was first noted in US soldiers exposed to RADAR during World War II, and was demonstrated by Dr. Frey’s research.

And so, while EHS may be a new term, the condition itself has been recognized in literature for over half a century.

EHS Is A Growing Concern

As we all see every day, the number of technologies that emit EMF continues to grow exponentially. It’s no longer just cell phones and wifi – though the number of phones, antennas and wifi networks is growing rapidly – it’s also devices like smart meters, smart cars, smart door locks, smart thermostats… the list goes on. We are increasingly surrounded by a massive number of sources of EMF radiation.

As such, electromagnetic hypersensitivity is becoming a more serious concern as it’s increasingly difficult for those who suffer from the condition to find any respite — it’s almost impossible in modern society to find locations that do not have detectable levels of EMF radiation from a wide variety of devices and communications systems (EMF free zones being the exception).

Controversy About Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity

As with many aspects of EMF science, there has been a debate about the validity of EHS, and electrosensitivity is a controversial topic in the medical community. 

One of the reasons it’s so controversial is that the symptoms are so generalized, varied and nonspecific. Some doctors claim these symptoms can result from almost any other condition – including psychiatric conditions – and that there is no way to link these to EMF exposure.

EHS is a controversial topic not only in the medical community, but in the government and environmental community, too. Apart from cellphones being the most common offenders for symptoms of EHS, next in line are cellphone towers, power lines, and even your next-door neighbor’s home. People that suffer from EHS say the placement of these structures is out of their control and in violation of their personal health and safety. There have even been instances of lawsuits and public petitions to reduce EMF-producing structures in the public community.

There is Growing Evidence Supporting Electrosensitivity Diagnosis

There is not a significant amount of science that has been performed on the topic of electromagnetic hypersensitivity. But, the body of scientific research demonstrating that EHS is a real medical condition does exist and is growing.

In a 2017 study, researchers performed MRIs on the brains of 10 patients who claimed to suffer from EHS. All 10 had abnormal brain scans. What’s more: the abnormalities were “consistent and similar” across all 10 patients. The researchers believe that MRIs can be an effective means to diagnose the condition.

electromagnetic hypersensitivity brain scans
MRI scans from the study performed by Drs. Gunnar Heuser and Sylvia A. Heuser

And a 2012 review of scientific literature found that “evidence suggests pathophysiological change” in some people who suffer from EHS – in other words, evidence suggests this condition is real, and backed up by measurable changes to people’s bodies.

Another example came in 2006, when the government of the Australian state of Victoria mandated the roll-out of smart meters, thus resulting in the mounting of a powerful source of EMF radiation on every home. “By August 2013, 142 people had reported adverse health effects from wireless smart meters by submitting information on an Australian public Web site using its health and legal registers.”

Researchers then studied 93 residents, and found that “the participants’ symptoms were the same as those reported by people exposed to radiofrequency fields emitted by devices other than smart meters.” In other words, the people who reported suffering EHS as a result of the smart meter installation reported similar symptoms as people who have reported suffering EHS from other EMF sources, like cell phones and wifi.

And in her 2009 paper, Dr. Magda Havas tracked the improvement in EHS symptoms in students in schools where the population experienced ‘sick building syndrome’ – or a large number of the students and staff reported experiencing symptoms similar to those of EHS. Following the installation of Graham/Stetzer filters to remove the dirty electricity in the environment:

“The number of students needing inhalers for asthma was reduced in one school and student behavior associated with ADD/ADHD improved in another school. Blood sugar levels for some diabetics respond to the amount of dirty electricity in their environment. Type 1 diabetics require less insulin and Type 2 diabetics have lower blood sugar levels in an electromagnetically clean environment. Individuals diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have better balance and fewer tremors.”

In other words, Dr. Havas found that after dirty electricity was removed from the environment, a number of people reported significant improvements in their health.

Recognizing EHS

While the body of scientific data supporting EHS continues to grow (albeit quite slowly), very few doctors, organizations and governments actually recognize it as a real condition.

Currently, Austria is the only country in the world with formal, written guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of EHS.

And in Sweden, EHS is formally recognized as a functional impairment (not a disease).

Outside of Austria and Sweden, EHS is not formally recognized at a national level anywhere in the world.

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity is Increasingly Recognized

While perhaps not formally, EHS is increasingly being recognized as a real medical condition — even while there remains no widely-accepted tests to verify its presence. And an increasing number of organizations and standards-setting bodies recognize the existence of EHS, even as questions remain about how to address the problem.

For example, in 2015, a French court awarded one citizen €800 (about $890) a month as a disability grant due to her electrosensitivity. 

Push for Further Recognition for Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity

Around the world, advocates for recognizing electromagnetic hypersensitivity and modifying safety standards continue to push for further understanding and recognition of EHS.

In Canada, for example, Canada Health recently reviewed their Safety Code 6, which governs EMF exposure limits. Paul Demers, the director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre in Toronto, chaired the review of Safety Code 6:

Demers said members heard testimony from a number of people who considered themselves to be hypersensitive to emissions, with symptoms that fall under a broadly defined category called idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields, or IEI-EMF.
“We were very concerned with the health of these folks who did present to the panel,” he said. “So we recommended that Health Canada further investigate their problem … understanding their health conditions and finding ways to find effective treatments for these individuals.”

Not Waiting For Governments

Despite how controversial EHS is, some physicians are willing to diagnose patients with the disorder if the signs and symptoms fit the bill, especially when there aren’t any additional underlying causes that would produce those symptoms in the patient.

The Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, for example, now provides electrohypersensitivity diagnoses to patients with this condition. It is one of the few hospitals across the world that has an entirely separate department to treat patients suffering from environmental conditions like EHS. 

It even has a clinic dedicated to educating patients and the medical community on the effects of wireless radiation on the human body. The Women’s College Hospital has officially released a public statement associating those signs and symptoms with EHS even with all the controversy surrounding it.

Because of the debate surrounding electromagnetic hypersensitivity, the condition is underdiagnosed and the patients afflicted with the condition are scrutinized unfairly by the medical community. For this reason, the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto believes growing awareness is one of the best ways to bring the issue to the public.

The Women’s College Hospital is not the only place where you can seek diagnosis and treatment for EHS. Others include:

Working With Your Doctor

As you can see, the list of doctors and facilities that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not a long one. And for many, traveling to these locations is impractical, if not impossible.

And even if you are able to visit one of these locations, doctors who specialize in EHS recommend patients first talk to their family doctor about their signs and symptoms and request a referral to a specialist from there. 

So, in most cases, if you believe you are suffering from EHS, your first step is to visit your family doctor. But, realize that your doctor may never have heard of EHS, or may not believe it is real.

So when you go, go armed with facts.

One great resource is this consensus paper of the Austrian Medical Association’s EMF Working Group, which you can download here. This paper includes guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of EHS – and serves as proof that this condition is formally recognized by professional scientists and health care providers. 

Medicare and Medicaid Billing Codes

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this post, tracking the incidence of EHS is difficult because so few doctors understand and provide the diagnosis to patients. 

And while this is still the case in the United States, there is an important change of which you should be aware. EHS can now be categorized with an ICD-10 billing code.

ICD-10 billing codes are “used by doctors, health insurance companies, and public health agencies across the world to represent diagnoses.”

Each disease, disorder, infection, injury and symptom has its own ICD-10 billing code, and they are used to track health insurance claims as well as incidence of disease and epidemics.

And EHS now has its own ICD-10 billing code. There are actually a few codes to choose from, all under the header code ‘W90’. These include:

  • W90.0 – Exposure to radiofrequency
    • W90.0XXA – Exposure to radiofrequency, initial encounter
    • W90.0XXD – Exposure to radiofrequency, subsequent encounter
    • W90.0XXS – Exposure to radiofrequency, sequela
  • W90.8 – Exposure to other nonionizing radiation
    • W90.8XXA – … initial encounter
    • W90.8XXD – … subsequent encounter
    • W90.8XXS – … sequela

(Sequela means that the condition is the result of a prior condition.)

What’s more, as of late 2018, these codes are recognized by Medicare and Medicaid. 

So, if you live in the US, have EHS, and are able to secure a diagnosis from a doctor, please make sure to point your doctor to this ICD-10 billing code, and ensure that your condition is reported as one of these codes most appropriate to your circumstance. This will greatly advance our ability to track and quantify how many people suffer from EHS.

How to Treat EHS

Since EHS is the result of exposure to EMF radiation, often the best treatment is to reduce and limit your exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

There are ways of significantly reducing your exposure to electromagnetic radiation without disconnecting from society. Because, even as the sources of electrosmog in the environment continue to grow, it’s often how you use the devices closest to you that matters the most. 

For instance, to make a huge reduction in your exposure to EMF radiation, you can:

  1. Turn off your wifi router at night.
  2. Stop carrying your cell phone in your pocket.
  3. Stop sleeping with your phone.

These are just three of our series of SYB Healthy Living Tips to reduce your exposure to EMF radiation and it’s why we always say the best EMF protection is free.

And since it’s not always possible to create distance from your electronic devices, you can also try investing in products, like the ones we sell here at SYB, that reduce your exposure to harmful EMF radiation. These are EMF protection products like our SYB Phone Pouch and SYB 5G Phone Shield, which make it safer to carry your phone, or our SYB Laptop Pad, which makes it safer to use your laptop.

For those with mild-to-moderate symptoms, taking steps such as these to reduce your exposure may be sufficient to realize a notable boost in health and reduction in symptoms.

There are those, however, for whom such exposure reductions will prove to be insufficient. For those, alternative measures must be considered to enhance one’s resistance to EMF radiation. 

Many of these alternative measures are things any doctor would recommend for your overall health. Activities such as getting exercise, improving nutrition, eliminating the consumption of addictive substances, and improving your sleep, as well as stress reduction measures like meditation or keeping a more reasonable work schedule.

Tactics like these can prove effective because anything that makes you healthier has the potential to improve your immune system’s ability to deal with stressors, such as EMF radiation.

Those with the worst symptoms of EHS – who find life in modern society debilitating– may wish to consider moving to, or temporarily vacationing in, EMF free zones.

How Widespread is EHS?

Because of the controversy around EHS, and the fact that few doctors are aware of it or willing to provide a formal diagnosis, firm numbers of how many people have electromagnetic hypersensitivity are difficult to come by.

In one study from 2015, researchers surveyed various populations around the world and found that the incidence of EHS varies from “1.5% in Sweden to 13.3% in Taiwan.”

And the World Health Organization reports that “a survey of self-help groups yielded estimates [that] approximately 10% of reported cases of EHS were considered severe.”

Dr. Magda Havas, an expert in EMF science, believes that “3% of the population have severe symptoms and that 35% of the population have mild to moderate symptoms.”

As the number of governments, institutions, standards-setting bodies and medical professionals who recognize and diagnose EHS continues to rise, we can expect better reporting on the actual prevalence of this growing condition.

And with the exponential rollout of new EMF-emitting technologies on a daily basis, we can reasonably assume that the number of people suffering from EHS symptoms will continue to grow. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

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