Friday, April 27, 2007

Are You Electrically Sensitive?

If so, then perhaps you'll identify with this woman who has to wear a veil of protection to keep her from being contaminated by the modern world (Hat Tip: Ed Driscoll):

Sarah, 51, is one of a growing band of people who claim to be experiencing extreme - and incapacitating - sensitivity to electrical appliances, as well as to certain frequencies of electromagnetic waves.

"Wi-Fi, or wireless broadband networks, seem to be the worst thing," she says.

"Closely followed by mobile phones - particularly if they're being used in an enclosed space - the base stations of cordless telephones and mobile phone masts.

"I have to restrict the amount of time I spend on the computer or watching television, and make sure I don't have too many household appliances on at once, because that sets me off as well."

This may sound bizarre, but there is no doubt that Sarah's symptoms are real.

To date, they include hair loss, sickness, high blood-pressure, digestive and memory problems, severe headaches and dizziness.

They strike with such ferocity that, since diagnosing herself as "electrically sensitive" in May 2005, she has been marooned at home.

She can't work. When she wants to phone friends, she has to use a land-line - a significant advancement, it turns out, because she was so ill at one stage, she says, that she couldn't even touch an ordinary receiver without feeling a violent shock pass up her arm.

If you are suffering from the same horrible fate as Sarah, apparently there is help available through a wonderful charitable website called where they ask for only a ten pound donation. Here is more about their mission:

ES-UK is the association for the electrically hypersensitive (EHS). Charity Commission registered number 1103018. We support those made ill by electromagnetic fields/RF/microwaves and work to educate the public. Awareness and recognition of this ill-health reaction is urgently needed.

Okay, I shouldn't joke, I suppose this could be real. What do you think?



Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hypochondriac and self-fulfilling prophecy? Someone should teach her how to better control her physiology.

6:14 PM, April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that a Faraday Cage hat she's wearing? So all of a sudden tinfoil's not good enough...

6:18 PM, April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Finding her own solutions - however outwardly bizarre - has been essential because, for the moment at least, the medical establishment does not even accept that her condition exists."

"A stream of doctors, complementary practitioners and Chinese herbalists all failed to alleviate any of her symptoms or come up with a diagnosis."

I'm not seeing Psychologists listed in there. Maybe she should check them out.

6:55 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Eric said...

I think these people may be fueling each other's symptoms, and I suspect the disorder may be "Mass Psychogenic Illness" (MPI):

"MPI has been characterized as a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic disease that lacks an identified cause, which occurs among people who share beliefs regarding those symptoms (Philen et al., 1989). It is seen as a social phenomenon, affecting otherwise healthy individuals (Boss, 1997). While ruling out other potential causes of an outbreak is critical, MPI is not simply a diagnosis of exclusion. MPI has no pathognomonic features, but a variety of characteristics should prompt its consideration and can support the diagnosis."

I recently posted about this, and speculated that the illness could be transmitted online:

Of course, the people here hopefully won't be either catching or transmitting it online because aren't they sensitive to computers?


This is confusing, because they have the support website you mentioned.

How can it be possible that they can be allergic to their own support system (because of the emissions), but that it will have transmitted the sensitivity disease to them by means of MPI?

This sounds like the ultimate form of having your cake and eating it too!

6:57 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

A psych professor once pointed out to my class that you don't find anymore the hysterical blindness, paralysis, etc. that Freud described. Patients get more "sophisticated" over time in response to being figured out.

The new psychosomatic illnesses can be pretty weird. These faux illnesses also create a problem in recognizing real maladies that may crop up for whatever reason.

7:44 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Nathan Mates said...

Have these symptoms been tested with a double-blind test? As in, something like "subject enters one of two rooms, which are as identical as possible to the naked eye & ear. In one of them, electrical activity happens, in one, it doesn't. The subject has to determine which one is lit up."

Some tests like this would go a long way towards determining if it's psychosomatic or real.

[Some videogames, such as this one (scroll down to the 'Steamworks and magick obscura' section), had a somewhat similar premise. In short, characters that were strong in technology would disrupt nearby 'magic', and magicians would disrupt nearby 'technology'. Neat premise, but a somewhat buggy game.

7:48 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger GeorgeH said...

There seem to be enough fellow sufferers to support the manufacture of tin foil lined wallpaper unless it's for industrial or medical Faraday caging.

8:36 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Purple Avenger said...

Unless she lives in a mud hut without power, she's surrounded by EM fields all day from the house's wiring. When current flows through a wire, there is a field, and most houses aren't wired with metallic enclosed methods these days.

8:43 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

Love this quote:

"Wi-Fi, or wireless broadband networks, seem to be the worst thing, closely followed by mobile phones - particularly if they're being used in an enclosed space... (emphasis added.)

That pretty much settles the "is she a nut" question.

8:56 PM, April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The wikipedia article on electrosensitivity sums up the section on treatments with this statements, "However, the best evidence currently available suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy is effective for patients who report being hypersensitive to weak EMFs."

Is that a nice way of saying, "needs a shrink"?

9:26 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Douglas said...

I think that em sensitivity is real, and I think everyone experiences it but can't understand what it is they are experiencing.

I was a com tech in the Marine Corps (I know it's not a lab) but whenever I would walk through the HF lab (seperate from my workplace which was actually a deliberately designed vault of low interferrence (not clean room stuff)) I could sense the difference between my virtually no freq normal environment, and my high freq (actually high amplitude I think, it's been a while) environment.

The experience wasn't pleasent but really it was nothing more than any other kind of environmental change, like seasickness. after 3 days, pretty much everyone gets over seasickness, and since EM fields are so ubiquitous we adapt to them fast maybe a couple hours, and at a MUCH less severe level than seasickness.

In summary, EM sensitivity, I believe is real, but as for it being "debilitating" is CRAP! It's unpleasent and a couple people might experience a moment of nasea, but in general it's nothing more than "I don't like this," and then it goes away.

Walk in and out of a clean room. Walk into the area of a high power transformer from open air, and you can feel it. It's not a big deal, this chick is full of crap.

The phenomena is common most high power techs I know have experienced something like it, but it's just a momentary irritation you quickly adapt too, it isn't a crippling illness.

10:09 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Douglas said...

I left out the fact that this was about weak EM fields, I was talking about strong ones.

10:10 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Douglas said...

Also, the diagnosis, and symptoms read like the BS crap from the 80's about flourescent lighting. Wasn't there a "disease" in the 80's about how some people are adversely (is that the word?) affected by forms of unnatural light, especially flourescents?

10:14 PM, April 27, 2007  
Blogger Alcibiades said...

Very high power microwave antennas can hurt people, but everyday electronics won't do it. The FCC sets regulations about power output and frequencies so that people don't kill themselves or others.

11:30 PM, April 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree with nathanM, that the actual assessment shouldn't be too hard, and then you can assess what needs to be done, perhaps it would be psych, perhaps not.

The thing that bugs me, is the prejudgement that she is making it up/delusional/lying. There are unexpected outcomes in human life every day, so the assumption that it just isn't possible, is a croc. Douglas above pointed out experiences he had, AND THEN SAID IT COULDN"T BE ANY WORSE. Well? How do you know that? Just because it wasn't for you?

In essence the only way to figure this out is to do a basic inquiry, with some science behind it and proceed from there. There may be underlying neurological conditions that would explain what she feels.

The assumption that just because you have never had this happen to you, must mean it doesn't exist, isn't very respectful. One would hope that the next time you feel ill, you are not told 'it's all in your mind'... and instead someone tries to help, even if it IS all in your mind.

IMHO anyway...

2:12 AM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well she's reporting that she's also reacting to home electronic devices running at low frequencies (50Hz in the UK), and even ones utilizing direct current. How does a direct current propagate to affect someone at a remote distance?

3:07 AM, April 28, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't know ...

I'm phototoxic and photophobic, I can tell how much light pressure I'm getting even with the best blindfold you can devise. Most people could not hope to do that.

(Short frequency light feels like pressure to me. Imagine being out on a blistering hot and bright summer's day and then walking into an air-conditioned and slightly dark antique shop ... It's like that for me at all times.)

OK, photophobia and phototoxicity are well known and well described effects.

I rather doubt that this electrical effect will be medically described, but am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, for now.

4:06 AM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Dr. Helen laughs at all the people with problems she encounters.

Quack, quack.

4:48 AM, April 28, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Given that no study has been able to show any effect of powerlines, cell phones, etc. on health, this qualifies as an extraordinary claim. Rarely do I think somebody needs a shrink, but these people definitely do.

6:14 AM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article on this link discusses the possibility that cell phones are resulting in the disturbing/concerning phenomenon called "Colony Collapse Disorder" in honey bee hives.

8:09 AM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think devil rays are more dangerous myself.


9:48 AM, April 28, 2007  
Blogger SarahW said...

Hold the cell phone.

If there are such sensitivities, I don't know, and if I have them, I am unconscious of them.

However, I did develop a sensitivity to acetic acid after a secretary in an office I worked in used it to clean out the coffee maker, thinking it was vinegar. I can't tolerate a heavy smell of vinegar, and I suspect it's because my body has some sort of memory of the acute insult injured skin and lungs all those years ago, and mounts some kind of chemical warning alert to get away. (this manifests in a heavy burning feeling in the lungs, they become inflamed and heavy, and I cough and wheeze. Whatever my body is doing, it does work at getting me to leave the area.) Those who would discount this as an "emotional" response might note that emotions are not seperate from the body's defenses, and are specifically connected to immune responses.

As far as low-grade electromagnetism having any physical effect upon the body -
There are some studies that cell changes from exposure to various forms of electromagnetism - even from cell phone use.

(Cell phone users who use their phones on one side of the head do show some changes in the brain cells of the "favored" side of the head vs the less-exposed side. Not disease, per se, but this is not an effect that has been studied in the long term and this finding hints it is possible)

I certainly feel all "wierd" when I walk by the faraday cage demonstrations at the local science museum, enough to know that there is something in the air I don't usually experience - and note that electronic devices can be affected by electromagnetic pulsations. Anyone with a pacemaker knows precautions around certain "leaky" devices must be observed.

This woman appears to be suffering an anxiety disorder. What would be interesting to see is if it is triggered by her merely believing she is around some man-made elctromagnetism, or if it is now unconsciously triggered by actually being around electromagnetism, even if it is not a direct effect of the elctromegnetism, but an indiosyncratic reaction having more to do with an association her immune system made with the "feeling".

10:57 AM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would be interesting to see is if it is triggered by her merely believing she is around some man-made elctromagnetism

Which she is almost always guaranteed since she lives (according to the article) in north London. I'm sure there's plenty of WiFi and cell phone usage there.

Tucson Tarheel

11:19 AM, April 28, 2007  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

What's the biggest clue? That she shuns low radiated power sources but not higher radiated power sources.

Definitely psychosomatic.

11:36 AM, April 28, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

Sarahw wrote: "Those who would discount this as an "emotional" response might note that emotions are not seperate from the body's defenses, and are specifically connected to immune responses."

Emotional responses are brain activity, plain and simple. Emotional responses are not that different from pain responses. And they certainly do affect the immune system. You are speaking facts here.

The placebo effect is so real that it can be measured and must be accounted for in research. It is an actual phenomenon. When some says "It is all in your head" they are correct. Everything is all in our head.

But I still think devil rays are more dangerous.


12:00 PM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always skeptical when someone experiences a variety of symptoms that are so common and can have so many different causes, and then self-diagnoses one specific cause. And when the person self-diagnoses something that is far out there, with no scientific or medical backing, and the person will not submit to a simple test that will confirm or refute the self-diagnosis, I am beyond skeptical.

I'm sorry this woman and, apparently, others like her suffer so much, but I am convinced they have not really sought all the available help. Nor are they likely to do so, because they have chosen to believe what they believe--and because it gives them a victim class all their own. We are not welcome to confuse the issue with facts, or even better theories.

5:12 PM, April 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bee die-off was a handy thing to blame on cell phones. I'm sure the previous die-offs were caused by immorality or crossbow testing or whatever. Anyway, it's definitely a pathogen, and there is a tentative identification of the fungus.

Cell site radiated power was set by the FCC, based on a large safety factor against a conservative threat level estimate, at the antenna. An occasional roofworker, or a tower tech if the transmit radios aren't shut off during maintenance, is the only person exposed to that much energy. Handset power is a fraction of that. Nobody has since demonstrated that the original estimate of what constitutes harmful exposure was in fact flawed.

Remember the one about clusters of diseases along high voltage transmission lines? The "research" professor who started that has confessed to falsifying data to acheave his social goal.

10:00 PM, April 28, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

As I said, I can tell how much light pressure I'm getting without being able to see; that is something which can be tested quite easily. So, it seems to me that a simple test could be run using a blindfold and a few common sources of low power electrical fields.

Can they tell they are in a field?

Yes? Effect is shown, look to see if there is a problem.

No? It's a mental health issue.

At least, that's how it seems to me.

3:46 AM, April 29, 2007  
Blogger BladeDoc said...

Here's a great book that talks about this kind of stuff Whiplash and Other Usefull Illnesses . The short answer -- as one poster noted above, this is modern world's version of Freud's hysterical paralysis, blindness, etc. etc. and further back, witch hunting hysteria.

12:14 PM, April 29, 2007  
Blogger BladeDoc said...

Damn screwed up the tag it's

12:15 PM, April 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only adverse health effect ever discovered due to exposure to radio waves is due to thermal effects. If you get blasted with enough radio waves to heat up your body, that's bad. Anything less than IEEE Personal Exposure Limits really doesn't matter, and those limits have a very wide built-in margin of safety.

It goes back to what douglas said: these are strong EM fields, not weak ones. Weak ones don't do anything, to the best understanding of all the researchers who have looked into them.

1:58 PM, April 29, 2007  
Blogger Nom de Blog said...

My daughter, even in the womb, has been sensitive to lightning. Whenever there's a lightning bolt that lands nearby, she startles. Not thunder, lightning. It was *real* fun being pregnant with her during an electrical storm. So I think that people are capable of being hypersensitive to electricity. I also know that there are people who are sensitive to fluorescent lights specifically; autistic kids who can see the "flicker" are a well documented phenomenon.

However, I do agree that people should be willing to scientifically address their conditions and sensitivities and go about proving them in a scientific way. If they're not willing to address them scientifically, they shouldn't be insisting that science help solve their problems.

7:01 PM, April 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I was electically sensitive, or had a wierd skin rash, or some other nebulous ailment that would allow me to collect a check and stay home. Alas, it is not be. They continue to expect me to diligently show up for work, if not enthusiastically.

10:50 PM, April 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm of a mind to dismiss the hypothesis that these folks are actually hypersensitive to electricity out of hand.

It would be easy enough to test the hypothesis, though. Put the subject in a Faraday cage with an unobtrusive source of EM radiation. Turn the source on and off at random intervals. See how the patient reacts.

The alternative hypothesis, that these people are hypochondriacs, seems infinitely more plausible to me.

And I speak as a hypochondriac. I know what triggers my symptoms. I know it's all in my head. Curiously, that doesn't help. So I'm not unsympathetic to these people; I recognize the difference between hypochondria and malingering.

11:26 AM, April 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My hair fell out after I got a Wi-Fi network. :)

10:52 AM, May 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Okay, I shouldn't joke, I suppose this could be real. What do you think?

Labels: weird psychosomatic diseases"

got it in one. I thought the Americans had this area completely covered. Nice to see some Brits getting in on the act.

12:08 PM, May 02, 2007  
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