Guidance for doctors - how to diagnose and treat electrosensitivity

Case studies

Interview with Dr. Dowson [coming soon]

HPA formal announcement

Other articles by Dr. David Dowson

Biography of Dr. David Dowson

Other articles

The Diagnosis and Management of Patients Presenting with Presumed Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity or EHS
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 the 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 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 as an appendix Click here for Gro Harlem Brundtland 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, 01353-778814, 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.

Presenting Patients

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:

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 ‘sensible’ to electrical sources affecting them, this means they are immediately aware of the effect of, for instance, someone nearby using a mobile phone (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 sensible 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.

Electromagnetic Sensitivity
by Dr David Dowson

During man’s existence on this planet three revolutions have taken place, each of which has had a profound influence on the environment, and consequently on our health:

1. Aeons ago was the original agricultural revolution when man developed farming methods and became a cultivator of food, rather than a hunter/gatherer. The dietary changes which resulted, with high dependency on grain and dairy products, formed the basis for food sensitivity.

2. The nineteenth century saw the industrial revolution withconsequent rise in pollution and the development of complex carbon-based chemicals.Human exposure gave rise to chemical sensitivity

3. Over the last one hundred years, but far more so over the last twenty years, we have had the electromagnetic revolution with the harnessing of natural electricity and the generation of electromagnetic energy. This, I believe, has caused the emergence of the relatively rare but increasing electromagnetic sensitivity

4. What is an electromagnetic field? An electromagnetic field is an area of energy which occurs round any electrically conductive or active item. In addition there are natural electromagnetic fields produced by the earth itself. The strength of an electromagnetic field varies considerably with the distance from the source. The current carried through the item is a major factor, but the field falls off by a factor of four for every time the distance from the source is doubled. This explains why sensitivity to a computer screen is common, as we sit near to them, but sensitivity to television sets is less common, as we are usually six or more feet away from them.

All electromagnetic fields oscillate or vary according to time, in that they pulse at a frequency of several times a second(or less commonly once every several seconds).

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The range of the electromagnetic spectrum is mind bogglingly vast. At one end of the scale are fields with frequencies of several seconds, and at the other frequencies of billions of times a second. The highest frequencies known are 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 Hertz (pulses per second)!

Visible light is an electromagnetic field but covers a very small part of the full spectrum. To try to visualise the EM spectrum, imagine you are at the end of a long corridor and each pace you take along this corridor increases the frequency tenfold - so one step takes you to 10, two steps takes you to 100, three to 1000 and so on. After two steps you are beyond the the earth's natural magnetic field and into the range of radio, television, telephone, radar and microwaves. Your fourteenth step takes you through the full range of visible light, and then you need six more paces through the ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma ray ranges before you reach the top. When one realises that within the visible light part there are millions of colours, each with it's own frequency, the full enormity of the spectrum becomes clearer. Add on to this that you can also have modulated fields with one frequency 'carried' by another then the potential range becomes almost infinite.

Frequencies within the first two paces and above the fourteenth pace of our imaginary 'corridor' occur naturally. But the explosion of telecommunication in the last few decades has filled the planet with unnatural radiation between our second and fourteenth pace.

Health Effects of E.M. Radiation

In the scientific community it is recognised that EM fields have health effects, but the view varies as to how strong the field has to be. Previous communist countries have the strictest guidelines, but in the U.K. the National Radiation protection Board have, bizarrely, set the limit at a strength required to heat the human body. this appears to assume that we are just lumps of meat and not living beings with electromagnetic communications going on in our brains!

Nevertheless, it is now clear that some people react to very low levels of exposure and that their reactions are often specific to certain frequencies. Common symptoms are headaches, fatigue, and impairment of mental function.Less common are rashes, muscular pain and sensory distrurbance. Often the patient is aware that their symptoms are worse in the vicinity of electrical appliances - and sometimes only specific appliances which produce their 'sensitising' frequency.

Management of EM Sensitivity

This is difficult and needs considering in 3 areas :

1. Avoidance.I have known patients move to remote areas of the UK, such as central Wales or the wilds of Dartmoor where EM pollution is lower. This is impractical if one is of working age. 2. Screening.Theoretically it is possible to build a screened room, to use as a respite area. To do this the entire room needs to be lined with fine wire mesh. The drawback is that this also screens out the natural earth frequencies, which appear to be essential for health.

3. 'Desensitisation'With most patients just as there are specific frequencies which trigger symptoms, there are frequencies which 'switch-off' the same symptoms. Regular exposure to these frequencies by various techniques appears to reduce EM sensitivity.

(c) Dr David Dowson MMIII. Also in 'Allergy-UK'