Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), a condition where sufferers claim electromagnetic field make them sick, regularly makes headlines.
In a recent Carte Blanche insert, EHS sufferers claim headaches, fatigue, depression, heart palpitations, concentration problems, tremors, and vertigo are symptoms they suffer.
According to Carte Blanche, between 1.2% to 13.3% of the population suffers from EHS, and Wi-Fi and cellular radiation are making the lives of thousands unbearable.
EHS sufferers in South Africa spoke to Carte Blanche about the impact of EHS, stating their issues range from not being able to sleep at home, to becoming completely dysfunctional in life.
What science has to say
Numerous scientific studies have been performed to test whether EHS sufferers respond to the presence of electromagnetic fields, like cellphone radiation.
These experiments used blind or double-blind conditions to ensure accurate results and used non-hypersensitive individuals as control groups.
A review of these studies showed there is no evidence to suggest that individuals are sensitive to electromagnetic fields.
A comprehensive 2006 study substantiated these findings, with no evidence of people with self-reported sensitivity to mobile phone signals being able to detect these signals or react to them with increased symptom severity.
EHS is therefore unrelated to the presence of electromagnetic fields, which means that sufferers do not get sick because of Wi-Fi or cellular waves.
It is not surprising then that electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not an accepted medical diagnosis, and that there is no specific test to identify it.
The nocebo effect
The findings that EHS is unrelated to the presence of electromagnetic fields does not mean the symptoms described by electromagnetic hypersensitivity sufferers are not real, however.
The 2006 study found that “as sham exposure was sufficient to trigger severe symptoms in some participants, psychological factors may have an important role in causing this condition”.
Many researchers point to the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in those with EHS.
A nocebo response occurs when a subject’s symptoms become worse when they are given a sham or dummy (placebo) treatment – in this case the belief that they are exposed to EM radiation.
In the case of EHS, researchers believe the symptoms are associated with a belief from sufferers that they are exposed to radiation.
South African experiment
In 2009, the issue of health concerns related to cellular radiation made headlines, with Craigavon residents taking on iBurst regarding a tower in their neighborhood.
The residents complained about headaches, nausea, tinnitus, dry burning itchy skins, gastric imbalances, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Former iBurst CEO Jannie van Zyl called a meeting with residents, where they indicated their symptoms remained severe.
He then revealed that the tower had been switched off six weeks before the meeting, which should have remedied the problems if the symptoms were actually caused by electromagnetic radiation.