leland teschler | executive editor
I once had a lengthy exchange with a guy who claimed RF from WiFi was making him sick. After numerous emails back and forth in which I tried to correct his misconceptions about WiFi signals, I gently suggested that he go find an RF screen room and sit in it to see if the experience made him feel any differently. I never heard from him again.
Clinicians would probably say my email pen-pal was suffering from electrohypersensitivity (EHS) syndrome. EHS is claimed to appear in people exposed to levels of electromagnetic radiation far below those high enough to raise the temperature of or induce electrical effects in living tissue. The problem is no high-grade (double or single-blind, randomized, and with a control group) clinical studies have been able to find evidence that EHS syndrome is real. Most clinicians have come to the same conclusion about EHS as Eric van Rongen of the Health Council of the Netherlands. Van Rongen surveyed the results of numerous EHS studies done with GSM signals. He says the evidence shows that exposure to a GSM-type signal may result in minor effects on brain activity, but such changes have never been found to relate to any adverse health effects. Van Rongen further concludes there are clear indications that psychological factors such as the conscious expectation of an effect may play an important role in people claiming to suffer from EHS.
Many of the studies van Rongen reviewed took place in the early 2000’s when cell phones were becoming ubiquitous. Though you can still find doomsayers warning about low-level cell phone signals, most concerns these days are voiced about WiFi and, increasingly, 5G frequencies. And with the widespread media coverage of IoT and 5G technology, it’s likely that the anxiety level about RF fields will grow.
Although no one has been able to find ill effects from low-level RF fields, that hasn’t been the case for effects caused by news stories about RF. Consider the findings of Anne-Kathrin Bräscher and her colleagues at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. They showed one group of test subjects a TV report on adverse health effects of EMF, the other group a neutral report. They then asked participants whether or not they could sense WiFi signals. The participants didn’t know that half of them were in an RF screen room and weren’t receiving RF energy of any kind. The group that had seen the EMF health effects propaganda were more likely to report some kind of sensation from the sham WiFi exposure, especially among participants who were super sensitive to touch or prone to vague gastrointestinal disorders. Bräscher also notes that participants of the WiFi group reported more anxiety about WiFi exposure than the control group and tended to perceive themselves as being more sensitive to RF fields after the experiment than before.
Bräscher and her colleagues concluded that sensational media reports can make even healthy people hypersensitive to minor symptoms they might otherwise just blow off. People who tend to perceive bodily symptoms as intense, disturbing, and noxious seem most vulnerable to having catastrophizing thoughts after exposure to sensational media reports about EM radiation.
In that regard, perhaps there is something good to come out of our current pandemic: It has temporarily redirected the attention of those with minor symptoms away from WiFi and toward the flu as being a likely culprit. But over the long term, there are ample reasons for researchers to stop bothering to look at increasingly implausible links between EHS syndrome and RF.