I saw there was a question about the harmfulness of WiFi waves, but i'd like to focus on the claims that they can cause headaches specifically; not the cancer-claims.

Numerous people come up with anecdotes about how they, or someone they know, get headaches from WiFi radiation.
Source: http://www.squidoo.com/wifi-headaches#module124071521

I can't seem to find any research on this. Does anyone know of the latest insights into this?

On PubMed i found this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=wifi+headache
"There were more statistically significant associations (36%) than could be expected by chance (5%)."


The symptoms you describe are commonly referred to as electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

I believe the studies you would be interested in are the following:

The majority of provocation trials to date have found that self-described sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to distinguish between exposure to real and fake electromagnetic fields,[2][3] and it is not recognized as a medical condition by the medical or scientific communities. Since a systematic review in 2005 showing no convincing scientific evidence for it being caused by electromagnetic fields,[2] several double-blind experiments have been published, each of which has suggested that people who report electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to detect the presence of electromagnetic fields and are as likely to report ill health following a sham exposure, as they are following exposure to genuine electromagnetic fields.[4][5][6]

The systematic review of 2008 by Röösli M [3], which seems to be the latest, writes in the abstract:

RF-EMF [radiofrequency electromagnetic field] discrimination was investigated in seven studies including a total of 182 self-declared electromagnetic hypersensitive (EHS) individuals and 332 non-EHS individuals. The pooled correct field detection rate was 4.2% better than expected by chance (95% CI: −2.1 to 10.5). There was no evidence that EHS individuals could detect presence or absence of RF-EMF better than other persons.

[2] Rubin, James; J Das Munshi J, Simon Wessely (March–April 2005). "Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: a systematic review of provocation studies". Psychosomatic Medicine 67 (2): 224–32. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000155664.13300.64. PMID 15784787.
[3] Röösli M (June 2008). "Radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure and non-specific symptoms of ill health: a systematic review". Environ. Res. 107 (2): 277–87. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2008.02.003. PMID 18359015.
[4] Regel, Sabine; Sonja Negovetic, Martin Roosli, Veronica Berdinas, Jurgen Schuderer, Anke Huss, Urs Lott, Niels Kuster, and Peter Achermann (August 2006). "UMTS Base Station-like Exposure, Well-Being, and Cognitive Performance". Environ Health Perspect 114 (8): 1270–5. doi:10.1289/ehp.8934. PMC 1552030. PMID 16882538.
[5] Rubin, James; G Hahn, BS Everitt, AJ Clear, Simon Wessely (2006). "Are some people sensitive to mobile phone signals? Within participants double blind randomised provocation study". British Medical Journal 332 (7546): 886–889. doi:10.1136/bmj.38765.519850.55. PMC 1440612. PMID 16520326.
[6] Wilen, J; A Johansson, N Kalezic, E Lyskov, M Sandstrom (April 2006). "Psychophysiological tests and provocation of subjects with mobile phone related symptoms". Bioelectromagnetics 27 (3): 204–14. doi:10.1002/bem.20195. PMID 16304699.

  • That latest systematic review has been cited 99 times, certainly it would be worthwhile checking those out as well. – Steven Jeuris Mar 3 '14 at 16:40
  • This does not answer the question as it stands. I think the questioner is looking for objective measurements, not self reporting. – Duckisaduckisaduck May 26 '14 at 11:27
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    @Duckisaduckisaduck Granted, an answer based on physics might also negate the hypothesis that WiFi could ever cause headaches. Headaches however are quite subjective, so I (and the OP it seems) find a double blind subjective experimental setup sufficient. It would be interesting to know more about this nonetheless. Feel free to update/add new answers. – Steven Jeuris May 26 '14 at 11:32
  • True, fair enough. It would take a very expensive trial including some kind of brain scan to differentiate between psychological and physiological symptoms - possibly confounded by any uncertainty about brain scans causing headaches. – Duckisaduckisaduck May 26 '14 at 11:42
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    If they can cause headaches you can detect invisible wifi waves with your headache. – borjab Oct 23 '15 at 23:44

Yes they can cause headaches.

A big misconception is that RF EMF cannot cause harm because it doesn't cause ionisation - the issue with this fallacy is that ignores other pathways/mechanisms for harm. Radiofrequencies, especially modulated/pulsed fields, cause oxidative stress, nitric oxide depletion, endothelial cell dysfunction, calcium ion channel leakage, even blood-brain barrier leakage.

Inflammatory responses can lead to headaches in some but not others. EHS is real - as real as light-induced epilepsy (visible light is non-ionising, but can still cause harm when pulsating).


Objective: We sought direct evidence that acute exposure to environmental-strength electromagnetic fields (EMFs) could induce somatic reactions (EMF hypersensitivity). Methods: The subject, a female physician self-diagnosed with EMF hypersensitivity, was exposed to an average (over the head) 60-Hz electric field of 300 V/m (comparable with typical environmental-strength EMFs) during controlled provocation and behavioral studies. Results: In a double-blinded EMF provocation procedure specifically designed to minimize unintentional sensory cues, the subject developed temporal pain, headache, muscle twitching, and skipped heartbeats within 100 s after initiation of EMF exposure (p < .05). The symptoms were caused primarily by field transitions (off–on, on–off) rather than the presence of the field, as assessed by comparing the frequency and severity of the effects of pulsed and continuous fields in relation to sham exposure. The subject had no conscious perception of the field as judged by her inability to report its presence more often than in the sham control. Discussion: The subject demonstrated statistically reliable somatic reactions in response to exposure to subliminal EMFs under conditions that reasonably excluded a causative role for psychological processes. Conclusion: EMF hypersensitivity can occur as a bona fide environmentally inducible neurological syndrome.

Read More: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00207454.2011.608139

*EDIT to save commenting space, commentary from Prof Dominique Belpomme of ARTAC: http://www.emfacts.com/2012/01/electromagnetic-intolerance-elucidated/

Excerpt: "Dr. Belpomme’s team has developed a diagnostic method based on blood tests and a special brain scan (pulsed Doppler echography) to visualize blood flow. “These patients clearly have vascular disorders in the brain, said the oncologist. In addition, our biological tests show that 30% of them have high levels of histamine, 50% have too much stress proteins, most have low levels of melatonin (an potent anti-cancer hormone), and 30% have levels of antibodies and proteins that are tell-tale signs of thermal shock and brain damage.” He adds that half of his patients suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and that MCS and EHS share the same brain abnormalities.

The oncologist explained that there are three distinct levels of sensitivity to pollutants. First, there is intolerance, caused by polymorphism. “This means that we are all different. For example, 30% of the population is most at risk of developing cancer.”

Second, there is the susceptibility factor demonstrated by Swedish oncologist Lennart Hardell who studied 16 families who were electrosensitive because of shared genetic factors. There are also active susceptibility factors, “such as dental amalgam that behave like antennas capturing airwaves”, explains Belpomme.

Finally, electromagnetic hypersensitivity appears in two stages. “The first phase is induced by exposure to a specific EMF frequency, either an acute or chronic exposure, such as talking on a cell phone 20 minutes every day. The first signs of hypersensitivity are pain and a heat sensation in the ear. In the second phase, the disease sets in. That’s when you become intolerant at all frequencies.”

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    A single study with a single subject is a fairly unreliable response to a systematic review and doesn't trump it's conclusions. – matt_black May 23 '14 at 20:24
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    @Mike A systematic review is not a preponderance of belief. It is a preponderance of evidence. – user5582 May 23 '14 at 22:37
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    @Mike You beg the question by assuming that this instance is verifiable and repeatable truth. The dispute in this comment thread is whether this is in fact verifiable repeatable truth. As far as I can tell, this subject hasn't had this exact test regime repeated on her by another research group to rule out effects of accidental or intentional exploitation of researcher degrees of freedom. Even taking this study at face value, there is a 5% chance that there was really no effect here. – user5582 May 27 '14 at 19:04
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    @Mike Additionally, they "defined EMF hypersensitivity as the occurrence of any medically recognized symptom in response to provocation using an environmentally relevant EMF; there was no requirement that the same symptom must reoccur when the EMF provocation was repeated." Any symptom could have happened, and they would have counted it as an effect due to EMF. – user5582 May 27 '14 at 19:10
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    @Mike The systematic review of Rubin used all relevant blind or double-blind provocation studies. So far, you've presented one study that focused on a single individual (that I've already mentioned isn't conclusive for several reasons in the comments above). So, instead of asking "how many do I need", start with presenting at least more than one. It's also not about numbers, but the context of the work. An exact replication of the McCarty work would be more compelling than an unrelated study on a second individual with experiment variables left open for more researcher degrees of freedom. – user5582 May 27 '14 at 23:18

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