Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), sometimes called “microwave syndrome,” involves the body's central nervous system showing sensitivity to electromagnetic activity. People with EHS say they experience symptoms such as headaches, stress, skin issues, and sleeping problems.
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a sensitivity to electromagnetic fields, causing a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person.
Research has yet to prove that EHS exists. However, the World Health Organization recognizes it as a condition.
Treatment for EHS focuses on identifying the cause of symptoms and managing them.
What is electromagnetic hypersensitivity?
People with EHS are vulnerable to electromagnetic fields (EMF) such as radiofrequency from cell phones, Wi-Fi, or other sources. Sometimes, this hypersensitivity is referred to as an allergy. While not clinically an allergy, it does cause an official allergic cascade within your body’s histamines.
With EHS, people state that they have symptoms when exposed to any device that emits certain radiations, including cell phones, microwaves, radios, computers, Wi-Fi routers, and other daily used devices.
Not everyone believes that EHS or sensitivity to radiofrequency is real. Studies have not been able to correlate exposure to EMFs causing symptoms of EHS officially. In addition, some blind studies have shown that some patients were not able to correlate EMF exposure to any EHS symptoms.
However, certain research has shown biological effects when exposed to EMP at low intensities. People who report being hypersensitive also appear to have impaired organ systems. EMF has also been shown to change the body's calcium use and activate free radicals.
Is EHS medically proven?
No, currently, not one study proves that exposure to certain electric fields or radio frequencies causes adverse symptoms in people. But multiple studies have involved people suffering from EHS and their responses to being exposed to EMFs.
One study performed in May 2020 had no positive correlation proving that EMF causes any symptoms in patients with EHS. As a result, scientists believe the cause is from believing that being exposed causes negative symptoms. This phenomenon is called a “nocebo” effect — when someone thinks they are exposed or actually exposed, they feel negative symptoms.
Another earlier study performed in January 2017 used a randomized EMF exposure to people with EHS. The participants were exposed to different types of frequencies and sometimes no frequencies at all, and had to report when they felt symptoms. Unfortunately, no participant could correctly identify the differences between the time when they were exposed to EMFs and when they weren’t.
Despite negative findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes EHS as a condition with various non-specific symptoms that are medically unexplained. The WHO identifies that the symptoms of EHS are real and vary in severity. At the same time, EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and is not considered a medical diagnosis.
Misconceptions about EHS
Despite its ambiguity, EHS has been closely linked to mental illnesses in the medical community. Thus far, no concrete proof exists as to what causes this controversial condition and how it can be treated effectively.
Many people think that EHS is a “bogus condition” of people claiming to be allergic to Wi-Fi and other common EMFs. However, while some cases have been reported in patients with mental illness, others report symptoms when exposed to EMFs who do not have any mental illness.
Population affected by EHS
Since EHS is not currently a clinical or medical diagnosis, there is no accurate measurement of the population affected. However, current studies show that EHS is more common among women than men, with two-thirds of the people being women.
The number of people with EHS is suspected to range between 0.7 to 13.3% worldwide. Most countries report having an affected population of 3 to 5%. In 1998, experts estimated that 3.2% of the population in the United States was affected.
Signs and symptoms of EHS
People with EHS can have various symptoms affecting multiple organs. Some people with EHS claim to feel symptoms when exposed to Wi-Fi, cellphone, computers, and similar electronic objects. Currently, scientists have not been able to correlate exposure with specific symptoms.
However, researchers believe symptoms may vary widely from person to person with EHS. In addition, the severity of the symptoms also wildly varies from person to person, affecting different areas, functions, and organs in the body.
Common symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity include:
- Muscle pains
- Prickling or tingling feeling on the skin
- Sleep disturbances
How to diagnose and treat EHS
Currently, EHS is a self-diagnosed syndrome — and not clinically diagnosed in the United States. If you feel that you have EHS or are experiencing symptoms of EHS, see your physician for a full workup on the condition.
Treatment for EHS focuses on the symptoms rather than the need to reduce or eliminate EMF exposure.
Doctors are recommended to do a complete medical evaluation to treat conditions that may also be responsible for the symptoms. In addition, a complete psychological evaluation should also be performed to identify conditions that can cause symptoms.
An assessment of the home and workplace should be performed to see if any factors could contribute to the symptoms. These could include items such as flickering lights, excessive noise, air pollution, and other ergonomic factors.
It is also recommended to reduce stress in environments where the person is affected by their symptoms. Treatment should focus on developing strategies for coping and encouraging people with EHS to return to a normal social lifestyle.
- World Health Organization. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
- BioMedicalCentral. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: a critical review of explanatory hypotheses.
- Environmental Research. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS, microwave syndrome) – Review of mechanisms.
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Electrohypersensitivity as a Newly Identified and Characterized Neurologic Pathological Disorder: How to Diagnose, Treat, and Prevent It.