"The prevalence of EHS seems to be increasing today, and many people get symptoms when exposed to ELF- and/or RF-EMF. With the ever more extensive use of wireless technologies, nobody can avoid being exposed. It is important to work toward getting objective diagnostic criteria for EHS, and have it recognized and officially accepted as hypersensitivity, an illness caused by exposure to EMF. Thus, it is necessary to give an International Classification of Diseases to EHS. If and when EHS is accepted as a diagnosis by society and the medical profession, measures can be taken especially in consideration for this group of people with EHS regarding healthcare, accommodation, school, and work."
Lena Hedendahl1 / Michael Carlberg2 / Lennart Hardell2
1Research and Innovation Unit, County Council of Norrbotten, SE-971 89 Luleå, Sweden
2Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden
Corresponding author: Lena Hedendahl, MD, Research and Innovation Unit, County Council of Norrbotten, SE-971 89 Luleå, Sweden, E-mail: (email)
Citation Information: Reviews on Environmental Health. Volume 30, Issue 4, Pages 209–215, ISSN (Online) 2191-0308, ISSN (Print) 0048-7554, DOI: 10.1515/reveh-2015-0012, September 2015
Publication HistoryReceived:2015-06-29Accepted:2015-08-17Published Online:2015-09-15
Background: In 1970, a report from the former Soviet Union described the “microwave syndrome” among military personnel, working with radio and radar equipment, who showed symptoms that included fatigue, dizziness, headaches, problems with concentration and memory, and sleep disturbances. Similar symptoms were found in the 1980s among Swedes working in front of cathode ray tube monitors, with symptoms such as flushing, burning, and tingling of the skin, especially on the face, but also headaches, dizziness, tiredness, and photosensitivity. The same symptoms are reported in Finns, with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) being attributed to exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). Of special concern is involuntary exposure to radiofrequency (RF)-EMF from different sources. Most people are unaware of this type of exposure, which has no smell, color, or visibility. There is an increasing concern that wireless use of laptops and iPads in Swedish schools, where some have even abandoned textbooks, will exacerbate the exposure to EMF.
Methods: We have surveyed the literature on different aspects of EHS and potential adverse health effects of RF-EMF. This is exemplified by case reports from two students and one teacher who developed symptoms of EHS in schools using Wi-Fi.
Results: In population-based surveys, the prevalence of EHS has ranged from 1.5% in Sweden to 13.3% in Taiwan. Provocation studies on EMF have yielded different results, ranging from where people with EHS cannot discriminate between an active RF signal and placebo, to objectively observed changes following exposure in reactions of the pupil, changes in heart rhythm, damage to erythrocytes, and disturbed glucose metabolism in the brain. The two students and the teacher from the case reports showed similar symptoms, while in school environments, as those mentioned above.
Discussion: Austria is the only country with a written suggestion to guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems. Apart from this, EHS is not recognized as a specific diagnosis in the rest of the world, and no established treatment exists.
Conclusion: It seems necessary to give an International Classification of Diseases to EHS to get it accepted as EMF-related health problems. The increasing exposure to RF-EMF in schools is of great concern and needs better attention. Longer-term health effects are unknown. Parents, teachers, and school boards have the responsibility to protect children from unnecessary exposure.
In recent decades, human beings and other species have been increasingly exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) (1, 2). Exposure is involuntary from, e.g. base stations and wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) routers used for wireless internet communication, but also voluntary through personal use of such devices as mobile phones, cordless phones and wireless connected laptops, iPads, etc. At homes and in offices, we now see a new development with wireless “talk” between different appliances causing increased passive exposure to RF-EMF.
Many people are concerned about the potential adverse health effects of RF-EMF. Of special concern is exposure from sources that the individual cannot control, close out, or even reduce. However, most people are unaware of this type of exposure, which has no smell, color, or visibility. Cordless phones may be placed close to the bed, whereby the sleeper is unnecessarily exposed to RF-EMF from its base station. Many take their smart phones everywhere and put them on the bedside table or even under the pillow at night. Laptops and iPads are frequently used in schools, at work, and in the home. Schools in Sweden usually have wireless networks reaching every room in the building. This makes it easy and convenient to teach and keep in contact everywhere. In some schools, almost all education is conducted through a personal computer given to each student. The same type of development is going on in offices and other workplaces. Free Wi-Fi is also available to everyone in some city centers in Sweden.
Electric light can be switched on all day during dark winter months, and in our homes, we are dependent on electricity and electric appliances for cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes and dishes. Technical development has accelerated rapidly during the last century. It has made life easier and more convenient.
However, there are people who experience sideeffects from electrical and wireless equipment. They can experience symptoms that include headaches, nausea, dizziness, skin problems (itching, pricking, and heating), heart arrhythmias, concentration and memory difficulties, sleep problems, aches in muscles and joints, etc. (3). They present different symptoms depending on the frequency of the EMF. It can also vary widely which symptoms a person gets depending on his or her individual sensitivity and weaknesses. The intensity of the symptoms can vary from weak to strong within seconds and last from minutes to several days. The symptoms can make everyday life very disabling and difficult to manage.
Wi-Fi in schools
Over the last few years, while all public schools and most private schools in Sweden have installed wireless access to the Internet (Wi-Fi), there have been reports in newspapers of teachers and children experiencing symptoms of EHS (10, 11). In classes with one laptop per student, exposure to EMF can be especially high. Symptoms often include tiredness, headaches, dizziness, and difficulties with concentration and memory. Some recover at home, whereas others have problems sleeping at night. Palpitation of the heart is another reported symptom.
A debate has started in Sweden as to whether students should be allowed to use their mobile phones during school time. It is usually not exposure to EMF from the phone that is the issue of this debate, but rather the time, energy, and attention it takes away from school work.
The prevalence of EHS seems to be increasing today, and many people get symptoms when exposed to ELF- and/or RF-EMF. With the ever more extensive use of wireless technologies, nobody can avoid being exposed. It is important to work toward getting objective diagnostic criteria for EHS, and have it recognized and officially accepted as hypersensitivity, an illness caused by exposure to EMF. Thus, it is necessary to give an International Classification of Diseases to EHS. If and when EHS is accepted as a diagnosis by society and the medical profession, measures can be taken especially in consideration for this group of people with EHS regarding healthcare, accommodation, school, and work.
Measurements of exposure to EMF should be performed in classrooms and in school yards during a typical school week. The results must be evaluated in relation to current knowledge of biological effects from EMF exposure. This should lead to a precautionary approach using wired solution of the internet connection, but also reduction of other sources of EMF exposure. This approach should be similar as for control of exposure to other toxic agents such as asbestos and radon emissions. It is time to consider ELF-EMF and RF-EMF as environmental pollutants that need to be controlled.