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 population.”
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 http://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 here.
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 sound.
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 in.
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.