Diagnosis and Management of Patients Presenting with Presumed Electromagnetic
Hypersensitivity or EHS
By Dr David Dowson MD., Ch.B
‘Radiation sickness’ from over-exposure to non-ionising
electromagnetic emissions has been recognised over many decades.
It formerly only arose in the context of industrial and military
processes such as radar operators and electrical supply workers.
The increasingly widespread use of many new electrical devices in
both home and workplace at the same time as completely original
technologies, based on microwaves have been introduced, has spread
this environmental trigger. Now a vulnerable minority of sensitive
individuals are presenting with identical symptoms to those previously
only resulting from specialised circumstances. One to three per-cent
may be affected. As Sir William Stewart the head of the UK Health
Protection Agency and National Radiological Protection Board has
repeatedly said in his safety report, with regard specifically to
mobile phone microwaves:
“It is simply not possible to say that there are no potential
effects on the human population. It is difficult to talk about the
population because populations vary. Antibiotics do a wonderful
job for the general population, but there is a sub-group in the
population that is allergic to antibiotics; they cannot take them.
There is a sub-group in the general population who cannot eat nuts
because they are allergic to them. That is why we refer to the general
Sir William’s prescience identified an extra-sensitive sub-group,
a vulnerable minority who need help and support while scientific
recognition of EHS proceeds. He went on to say his work was being only selectively reported in January 2005:
“We said in the Stewart report its not possible to say categorically
that there are not health effects but what has come out from the
industry is that mobile phones are safe…they have been very
selective about what they said about the report.”
The most high-profile case of electrical hypersensitivity is Gro
Harlem Brundtland the last Secretary-General of the World Health
Organisation, W.H.O, she is a medical doctor and former Prime Minister
of Norway. Her account of how she is affected is given in her own
words.(Click here for Gro Harlem Brundtland interview)The WHO
have a programme of research on EHS and its implications and held
a scientific conference in Prague last October 25th to 27th a ‘Workshop
on Electrical Hypersensitivity’.
In the UK the NRPB is examining some microwave health effects under
their ongoing Mobile Telephony Health Research programme, MTHR.
As a doctor with a specialist interest in apparently idiopathic
conditions over twenty-five years I am respectfully offering my
assistance in diagnosis and treatment of what has been called this
‘modern emerging illness’.
For an excellent relatively brief introduction read ‘Electrical
Hypersensitivity, A Modern Illness’ by Alasdair & Jean
Philips of www.powerwatch.org.uk, or from the USA,
Lucinda Grant’s ‘The Electrical Hypersensitivity Handbook
– How Electromagnetic Fields are Making People Sick’,
Weldon publishing ISBN: 0-9635407-2-6.
The health effects of pulsed microwaves such as those found around
mobile phone base stations include sleep disruption, nosebleeds,
headaches, migraines, lethargy, increased blood pressure, skin problems,
the triggering of epileptic attacks and electrical hypersensitivity.
For commercial reasons companies deny these effects as well as the
long-term carcinogenic possibilities, we are not dealing with those
There is unfortunately as yet no single determining identifiable
symptom declaring this patient has EHS as a fact. Usually patients
have suffered from a cluster of these non-attributable non-specific
conditions which might have a number of causes. Often there is a
history of sensitivities to other environmental stimuli, hay-fever,
multiple chemical sensitivity, MCS, as well as general difficulties
dealing with the stresses life throws up. It is common to find a
number of different attempts have already been made to self-diagnose
or with a variety of practitioners. This is not necessarily neurotic
or hypochondriac, as a new unrecognised condition EHS sufferers
may search for elucidation over months and indeed years, submitting
to tests and treatments of little utility. On the other hand some
EHS sufferers are quite definite, they feel when they are being
‘zapped’ by electromagnetic fields and try assiduously
to avoid them. It can be disconcerting to hear for the first time
a patient say:
“Your computer makes me feel ill”, or blame fluorescent
lights or mobile phones, but to them it is a simple everyday fact.
From a neurological standpoint similarities have been pointed out
between symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical
sensitivity syndrome (MCS) and EHS They result from a breakdown
in the body’s systems for dealing with stress; research suggests
that EMFs can affect biological functions by their influence on
the production of neurohormones, they act as a biological stressor.
British biophysicist Peter Alexander has said:
"Once the individual is sensitised to an agent the initial
aggressor is immaterial. The biological reaction will be the same
to all agents."
Many EHS are also MCS, they are simply hypersensitive to a variety
of triggers including electromagnetic fields.
Typically from Computers and Screens you get these warning signs :
- An unnatural warmth or burning sensation in the face.
- A tingling, stinging or prickling sensation in the face
or other areas of the body.
- Dryness of the upper respiratory tract or eye irritation.
- Problems with concentration, dizziness and loss of memory.
- Swollen mucus membranes. Feeling flu like symptoms of headache,
muscle and joint pains. Feeling of impending influenza that never
quite breaks out.
- Headache and nausea.
- Teeth and jaw pains.
- Ache in muscles and joints.
- Cardiac palpitations.
Common Symptoms of EHS
In general, environmental illnesses can produce nearly any symptom,
depending upon the type of irritating exposure and the uniqueness
of the individual exposed. One exposure, whether chemical or electrical
can create symptoms of fatigue in one person and hyperactivity in
another person. However EHS symptoms are mainly skin related initially,
or neurological. Some individuals are sensitive to
electrical sources affecting them, this means they are immediately
aware of the effect of, for instance, someone nearby using a mobile
phone(again, see Gro Harlem Brundtland). For some this is painfully so
in the form of a sharp head pain similar to a migraine. Others are
less sensitive to a source directly but suffer from a more diffuse
variety of symptoms that may also result from other predisposing
triggers and the particular source can be difficult to identify,
even for the patient, never mind the doctor!
Considered by some to be the commonest symptom of all is a powerful
form of tinnitus. Not the common ringing in the ears but a sensation
of buzzing/sizzling/MW hearing through the aural tract. The higher
the levels of electromagnetic radiation, EMR, are, then the stronger
the tinnitus becomes.
Reactions may involve eye trouble, smarting irritating sensations
like grit in the eye and increased sensitivity to light especially
fluorescent lights, computer screens and even sunshine. Some sufferers
are forced to remain indoors more, and draw curtains. Skin problems
are common symptoms of hypersensitivity and backed up by Swedish
scientific research, (Prof Olle Johansson, Karolinska Health Institute)
the number of mast cells in exposed skin are increased by quite
limited Computer Screen exposure. The skin feels dry with a tendency
to redness and rashes; there may be tingling sensations facially
or elsewhere on the body.
Other symptoms reported affecting the face or head include swelling
and stinging even with accompanying blisters, a warm or burning
sensation like strong sunburn, itching of the nose and pain in the
teeth and jaws. Mucous membranes are reported affected by dryness
and swelling resulting in nonviral/bacterial swelling of nose, throat,
ears and sinuses. Also a metallic taste in the mouth, (associated
with mercury amalgam fillings), headaches accompanied by a buzzing
Nose bleeds are moderately common.
Among the joint, muscle and limb sensations EHS sufferers endure
are aches pains and numbness, weakness or prickling sensations in
joints, bones and muscles in shoulders, arms and legs, feet, wrists,
ankles, elbows and pelvis and cramp in arms and legs.
Many experience feelings of fatigue or abnormal tiredness; also
weakness, tremor, faintness and dizziness are experienced. There
are ingestion and digestion disturbances including dry mouth, loss
of appetite, nausea, excessive thirst, loss of taste, gagging, sickly
feeling in stomach, stomach upset and bowel disturbances. Breathing
can become a problem with shallow laboured breath, breathlessness
or a feeling of pressure on the chest, cardiac palpitations are
quite common also.
Cognitive effects are being unable to think clearly, finding it
difficult to concentrate and suffering from short-term memory loss,
the latter two are noted particularly with high mobile phone use.
Feelings of warmth or heating of the head may be mentioned.
Psychological symptoms include bad temper and irritability. Also
depression, withdrawal, anxiety, hysteria and feeling insane, out
of control as if the mind is being interfered with. Isolation is
a common consequence as relationships are strained by disbelief.
Suicidal tendencies may be acted on when severe depression sets
Other symptoms are a generalised feeling of impending influenza
which never quite breaks out, back and spinal or neck problems,
buzzing and ringing in the ears and exceptional sensitivity to sunlight
which means staying in the dark during the day. Intermittent electric
shocks from mild to strong are felt in various parts of the body.
Most EHS people suffer from resonance migraines believed to result
from pulsed fields on the brain stem. Pulsed microwaves are said
to have a direct effect on vulnerable persons causing brain seizures
and epilepsy, certainly in some children.Treatments for EHS
These are very limited, the best advice is to avoid electromagnetic
fields in all their varieties, electronic equipment, microwaves
and so on. Easier to say than to do in modern society, one or two
desperate individuals are forced to extreme measures including moving
to remote geographical locations without mobile phone coverage or
widespread electrical power distribution. This is not a course of
action suitable for, or desired by, most sufferers. Reducing exposure
to specific triggers by using monitoring equipment to identify them
is a more practical step for most. It may be faulty domestic wiring,
cordless DECT phones (serious field emitters) or far too long in
front of the screens of computers or making excessive and lengthy
mobile calls that is the trigger. When lifestyle changes and patterns
begin to ameliorate the EHS condition the natural immune systems
often cope much better, electromagnetic stress is reduced and a
virtuous cycle is initiated of better rest, bodily repair and general
health and mood improvement.
It is estimated 75% of electrical hypersensitives are also multiple
chemical sensitives, MCS, an additional burden for them, and that
fits with my experience. The MCS will need treatment too but is
a partly separate issue not under discussion here.
As further research proceeds and in the light of the HPA/RPD epidemiological
survey by Dr Neil Irvine to be published shortly which according
to their assistant chief medical officer Dr Jill Meara:
‘acknowledges ES as a multi-faceted syndrome, sets the scene
for it being a recognised valid diagnosis and calls for more research
into treatment and causes’, we can reasonably expect further
diagnostic and treatment developments.