Electrical Sensitivity (EHS)

Electrical sensitivity was the topic of a day-long symposium organised by Coghill Research Laboratories and held at the Royal Society of Medicine, London on 11 September.

What is Electrical Sensitivity?

Electrical sensitivity, or electrical hypersensitivity as it is sometimes called, is an allergic-type reaction to electromagnetic radiation from different sources. By the most conservative estimates, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide suffer from it.

Electrical sensitivity appears to develop after a single intensive exposure to EMR, or after multiple smaller exposures, particularly to computers and fluorescent lights. Exposure affects the nervous system, the endocrine system and/or the immune system.

Reactions are usually triggered by exposure to a particular frequency and different people appear to react to different frequencies.

Symptoms resemble those of microwave sickness reported in exposed populations by Russian researchers for several decades. They include:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • sleep problems
  • concentration problems
  • memory problems
  • aches and pains.

At this stage, electrical sensitivity is is not recognised by the medical fraternity.

Because there are no confirmed biological markers to identify the condition, it is not possible to diagnose it, nor is there any known treatment. However, many sufferers report improvements from complimentary medicine treatments.

The symptoms of electrical sensitivity are similar to those of chronic fatigue syndrome or ME and it is possible that the conditions may be one and the same.

Anne Silk

Anne Silk, president of Britain’s Optometrists Society, raised the possibility that electrical sensitivity might be a neurological condition known as migraine equivalent or variant.

“All migrainous conditions are … disorders caused by electrical overload in the brain, and sensory overload in a previously stressed system can, in a percentage of people, trigger a wide range of symptoms with remarkable parallels to those reported in ES.”

Migraine equivalent is a form of migraine that may not necessarily involve headaches. Its symptoms are similar to those of electrical sensitivity and include:

  • “jabs and jolts”
  • sharp head pain
  • fine hand tremor
  • eyelid twitch
  • micro sleep
  • yawning when not tired
  • vertigo
  • tingling at extremities
  • difficulty concentrating
  • cardiac arrhythmia
  • sweating irrespective of temperature
  • nausea
  • photophobia
  • phonophobia
  • osmophobia
  • itch
  • erythema and skin rashes
  • oscillating hypertension
  • aggression
  • metal taste in mouth
  • feeling “spaced out”
  • disorientation
  • hearing humming noises, buzzes or clicks.

Migraine equivalent is triggered by pulsed signals, flicker, beats or rhythmic touch. Electrical sensitivity also appears to have a relationship to flickering light. According to Mrs Silk, many electrically sensitive people who have contacted her have reported that their problems occurred after the installation of fluorescent lights, which are known to flicker at mains frequencies and their harmonics.

Migraine equivalent is usually treated by neurologists.

Prof Olle Johansson

This intrepid researcher, from Sweden’s Karolinksa Institute, has been interested in the issue of electrical sensitivity since the early 1980s. He began investigating the condition of screen dermatitis after hearing a sufferer describe the condition on a radio program with a plea for help from the scientific community.

In one of his early experiments, Prof Johansson compared the skin of people with and without electrical sensitivity. He found that those with electrical sensitivity had observable physical effects, with an increase in mast cells in the skin dermis. According to Prof Johansson, this finding was met with “hurricane-like attacks” from the scientific community.

In a later experiment, Prof Johansson observed the reaction of volunteers (who were not electrically sensitive) who were exposed to the radiation from a computer screen for two hours. Again he found an increase in mast cells. This is a typical reaction to radiation exposure and would be experienced from exposure to uranium, plutonium, X-rays, UVB or UVA, he said. The significant difference in the case of EMR was not the reaction itself, but only the time taken for the reaction to occur.

Prof Johansson’s laboratory was the first in the world to do provocation studies on electrical sensitivity. Another study of this sort showed that volunteers were able to detect the presence of mobile phone radiation.

These and other studies have shown that electrical sensitivity is a demonstrable physical response (and not a psychosomatic condition as often claimed). Sufferers, says Prof Johansson, are handicapped by normal radiation exposure. He regards them as biological sensors for the rest of the population, a little like the canaries used in coal mines. Professor Johansson believes that we would be well advised to listen to the important warnings that the electrical sensitive community is sounding.

Yet these warnings and Dr Johansson’s findings have been anything but heeded. Professor Johansson’s work on electrical sensitivity has come under determined attack and his career has been compromised. He has had no funding for his work on this topic for the past seven years.

“Why is there no funding for research?” asked Professor Johansson at the symposium. “We’re talking about the health of the whole human population and maybe animals and plants.”

In Sweden funding for the topic of electrical sensitivity is now only for projects that are unlikely to upset the status quo. There is funding for measurements of EMR, for the finding of clinical markers and for projects aimed at finding psychological causes for the condition.

Even so, Sweden’s electrically sensitive community, which numbers about a quarter of a million people, may fare better than those in other countries. On 6 March 2000 the Minister for Social Health Issues acknowledged electrical hypersensitivity as a physical disability. This means that the organisation of electrically sensitive people in Sweden known as FEB, has handicapped status and receives government funding.

This should be of even more importance to Sweden’s electrical sensitive people in the future, as the government has undertaken to make society accessible to the handicapped by 2010.

Dr Cyril Smith

Electrical sensitivity is, as Dr Smith has found from years of work with patients, related to the frequency of exposure.

Effects from environmental exposures to particular frequencies are not only seen in cells living at the time of exposure, but survive in daughter cells after cell division.

In specially-shielded conditions, Dr Smith exposed patients to a range of frequencies that he generated using an oscillator He found that, for each patient, a specific frequency (or frequencies) turned on the symptoms and a specific frequency (or frequencies) turned off the symptoms, effectively neutralising the reaction. Patients given a homeopathic preparation with the neutralising frequency have reported great benefits.

Dr Smith’s treatment is now being used with great success, by the Dallas Environment Centre in the US, which treats people with environmental sensitivities.

Dr Smith recommends three procedures for dealing with electrical sensitivity.

  • Remove chemicals from the body, as chemicals have a synergistic effect with EMR.
  • Reduce exposure to EMR.
  • Find the neutralising frequency.
Essex University Study

Prof Elaine Fox of Britain’s Essex University is planning a provocation study on electrical sensitivity, as mentioned in the previous issue of EMR Focus.

The project will assess the wellbeing and physical responses (eg heart rate, blood pressure and changes to blood) in a group of 130 volunteers.

During the study the subjects will be enclosed in a shielded room, and thus protected from outside exposure. They will be exposed to signals from GSM or UMTS (3G) transmitters and asked to detect whether the field is turned on or off.

As the study is only able to assess acute exposures, it will not reflect the effects of long-term cumulative exposure to radiation from mobile phone antennas.

EMR Focus, Vol 1 no 3, Sept 2004