A recent article from Daily Mail cited the case of a woman claiming to be allergic to Wi-Fi, and that it could even kill her. This claim sounded ridiculous and absurd to me. Quoting parts of the exact text:

  • Jackie Lindsey, 50, claims she has electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).

  • Says the condition - not recognized by doctors in the UK - means she is allergic to electricity and Wi-Fi and phones could cause shock.

  • She has diagnosed herself with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), and says anyone using Wi-Fi or a mobile phone signal around her could cause her to have an attack similar to an anaphylactic shock.

  • Four per cent of the population are severely affected by the condition while 30 to 40 per cent are mildly affected.

The Daily Mail also features other articles along the same lines in the past:

Does electromagnetic hypersensitivity exist? Does it severely affect 4% of the human population?


3 Answers 3


Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is believed to be an example of a nocebo. A nocebo is a reverse placebo - one's negative expectations cause harm.

EMF exposure hasn't been able to cause symptoms in blind studies.

it has proved difficult to show under blind conditions that exposure to EMF can trigger these symptoms. This suggests that “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” is unrelated to the presence of EMF, although more research into this phenomenon is required.

Sufferers are unable to distinguish RF-emitting mobile phones from non-emitting sham cell phones

The increase in pain or discomfort (visual analogue scales) in RF sessions was 10.1 and in sham sessions 12.6 (P = 0.30). Changes in heart rate or blood pressure were not related to the type of exposure (P: 0.30–0.88). The study gave no evidence that RF fields from mobile phones may cause head pain or discomfort or influence physiological variables. The most likely reason for the symptoms is a nocebo effect.

Or here either

In this double-blind study, two volunteer groups of 17 EHS and 20 non-EHS subjects were investigated in regards to their perception of RF-EMFs with real and sham exposure sessions. Experiments were conducted using a WCDMA module inside a dummy phone with an average power of 24 dBm at 1950 MHz and a specific absorption rate of 1.57 W/kg using a dummy headphone for 32 min. In conclusion, there was no indication that EHS subjects perceive RF-EMFs better than non-EHS subjects.

Meta-analyses report the same

In an earlier systematic review, we reported data from 31 blind provocation studies which had exposed IEI-EMF volunteers to active or sham electromagnetic fields and assessed whether volunteers could detect these fields or whether they reported worse symptoms when exposed to them. In this article, we report an update to that review. An extensive literature search identified 15 new experiments. Including studies reported in our earlier review, 46 blind or double-blind provocation studies in all, involving 1175 IEI-EMF volunteers, have tested whether exposure to electromagnetic fields is responsible for triggering symptoms in IEI-EMF. No robust evidence could be found to support this theory. However, the studies included in the review did support the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in IEI-EMF sufferers. Despite the conviction of IEI-EMF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.

This is what the World Health Organization has to say about it

The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals. Well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure.

It has been suggested that symptoms experienced by some EHS individuals might arise from environmental factors unrelated to EMF. Examples may include “flicker” from fluorescent lights, glare and other visual problems with VDUs, and poor ergonomic design of computer workstations. Other factors that may play a role include poor indoor air quality or stress in the workplace or living environment.

There are also some indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself.

Some people are moving to Green Banks, WV because it is part of the U.S. Radio Quiet Zone.

More info on nocebos.

An informative video on the subject

I just want to point out - just because the symptoms are not caused by EMF exposure or any known environmental causes doesn't mean they aren't real. People are experiencing real symptoms and real illness, it isn't "just in their head." Psychogenic illness still need to be taken seriously and treated.


Yes there are people that believe they have the problem but it does not come from physical exposure from electric fields.

It is usually classified as Psychogenic pain, also called psychalgia and can be treated with Cognitive behavioral therapy (ref) caused by a nocebo :

The thesis examines various aspects of "electricity hypersensitivity" (EH).

An empirical investigation of a group of persons suffering from EH was carried out, a part of the group being treated psychologically according to cognitive- behavioural principles in a controlled outcome study. The major findings concern an explanatory-model of EH, the the assessment of characteristics of EH-sufferers and the effects of the psychological treatment of EH.

The explanatory model for the development and maintenance of EH can be summarized as follows. Persons suffering from symptoms for which they lack an explanation search for an explanation within and outside the medical system. If they consider EH to be a possible explanation, they test the hypothesis that this is the case through exposing themselves to electromagnetic fields and concomitantly performing self-observations in a manner making it probable that the experiencing of their symptoms will be intensified. They then attribute the intensification of their symptoms to electricity. Once their belief in their suffering from EH is established, they gradually develop a cognitive schema regarding EH, one that is self-validating. Belief in EH can lead to the experiencing of a variety of secondary symptoms.

The characteristics of EH-sufferers on various psychometric measures appear to resmble much more those of a normal population than of a psychopathologic one. Certain characteristics suggest particular vulnerability to adverse stress-effects, which in turn could result in a proneness to develop EH. There was found to be a significant reduction in the degree of EH-suffering of patients trated with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) as compared with controls (patients offered CBT treatment later).

A conservative assessment of the treatment results indicated 50% of those treated to be "cured" or at least reliably improved in the sense of their physical symptoms having disappeared or diminished and their no longer considering the symptoms they had or have to be due to their exposure to elctromagnetic fields. The treatment principles employed are described and questions of the adequate assessment of EH and the adequacy of outcome predictors are discussed, as are the characteristics of EH-sufferers. Suggestions are made for empirical testing of the explanatory-model advanced. It is argued that EH can be regarded as a variant of disorders that develop in connection with perceived environmental threats.

EU-SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) states that there is no such thing as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (link)

Same goes for WHO

Too much money is spent on non working treatments and takes precious time from healthcare and policy makers and lobbyists such as Swedish Radiation Protection Foundation, electromagnetichealth and emf "scientist" are pushing weak and unscientific politicians to make EMF a "thing" even if it has been proven not to be caused by EMF several times:

Examples of political statements:

For TEN/559 EHSRichard Adams came with the following counter opinion:

”The great majority of independent trials to date have found that self-described sufferers from EHS cannot distinguish between exposure to real and false (meaning zero) electromagnetic fields. … However, this is not to deny the reality of EHS-attributed symptoms; clearly many people self-diagnose as suffering from a range of disconnected health problems which they link with electromagnetic fields.”

But even then the EESC woted FOR TEN/559 and against the counter-opinion 136 votes for and 110 against (and 19 not present or blank). (src) Minutes of meeting and Voting Record

  • 5
    You state EU-SCENIHR and WHO agree it doesn't exist and end your answer with So YES it esists. If I read it correctly, your links disprove your conclusion.
    – Mast
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 13:21
  • 1
    hmm, could be formulated better. Yes there are people that have the problem but it does not come from physical exposure from electric fields. The first link is to the Med Phd thesis investigating this.
    – oluies
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 13:34
  • "The problem" exists, but this answer's summary of the conclusion of the WHO and other medical types is that "the problem" isn't electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and "EHS" doesn't exist, despite that being what sufferers call it :-) Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 14:33
  • 2
    @SteveJessop Might be a better way of stating this, but the problem I am refereing to is that the 'sufferers' are not few, they are many and have powerful lobbing (well at least in the 10s millions) and are using this to get politicians uncientific support. For example, rooting for their side may get you a EC commisioners seat or swedish parlament seat by person voting. I dont know what to call this, but "going vote fisihing in unscientific waters" comes to mind.
    – oluies
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 15:17
  • 2
    Lobbyist include : Swedish Radiation Protection Foundation stralskyddsstiftelsen.se/english emfscientist.org So it is a problem, is that to much money is spent on non working treatments and takes precious time from healtcare and policy makers.
    – oluies
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 15:27

Great cancer risk in presence of GSM base stations (in German):


Austrian research confirms GSM base station health effects:


Non thermal effects:


Brain tumour risk from mobile phone use (WHO study):


DNA damage from phone radiation:


ad nauseam

The people who consider this to be a "nocebo" are not being balanced in their assessment. Look at the http://www.psrast.org/mobileng/mobilstarteng.htm website for non corporate funded studies. Neither the government, nor mobile phone companies, have any obvious interest in promoting this (billions in profits, tax revenue, better productivity etc.). Wifi is very similar to mobile phone radiation, except Wifi is much stronger. Some US universities have banned wifi because of its effects on concentration and attention span, and the EU recognises electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a disability. Here's Olle Johansson (neuroscientist at the Karolinska institute, which awards the nobel prize in medicine) talking about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cczGVhd63pM

Note that major mobile phone manufacturers (e.g. Apple) have started warning customers in their liability statements, not to keep the phone next to them but at least a certain distance away from them.

So don't buy into the "I believe the scientists durrr!!!" argument because science, like everything else in life, is affected at least partially by interests and a majority of non-industry funded (i.e. independent) studies done on this subject have found effects from this kind of radiation, whereas a majority of industry funded studies have found no effect, sometimes through tricks and manipulations. E.g. The Interphone study, and then the BMJ study based upon it, excluded the tumour rate of business users, who have used mobile phones for longest and most extensively. Then they found, unsurprisingly, no link between "heavy" use, in their much shrunken sample set excluding heavy users, and health problems. Here's an article which mentions the difference between industry and independent studies: http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/can-cell-phones-cause-brain-cancer/

As for whether people can detect wifi or not, why is that relevant? It seems totally irrelevant, except to dismiss the small minority of people who can genuinely detect these things (if indeed it is the case that they can). The purpose of this line of argument seems to be to pathologise those who have real concerns about electromagnetic radiation as crazies who can predict the future by reading tarot cards. People cannot easily distinguish if they have brain tumours, but they certainly have them! Even so, here's another study (double blind) finding a change in heart rate for people with and without the use of cordless phones (which use similar radio-waves): http://www.powerwatch.org.uk/news/20101022-cordless-heart.asp study is: 2010 M.Havas, et al: Microwave Radiation Affects Autonomic Nervous System, Eu J Oncology Library Vol.5

As everything else in life, be truly skeptical and pursue things with moderation. I own, and use when necessary, an expensive and very capable smartphone, but I only make calls on it if I have to and put it in flight mode except when I need to use it. Circumstances might be different for other people but certain communications clients allow computer messaging (e.g. Viber or Whatsapp) and if your computer is connected to your router with a wire, you're getting around the need for wireless access. Perhaps Windows 10 mobile will integrate this into the default messaging service. It isn't easy to live a wired life but it is more secure and more safe, and the inconvenience is relatively minor. I know many people are tied into the Apple ecosystem, some platforms of which do not have wired internet access. Perhaps it is time to make a change, or buy the wired adapter.

Certainly the idea of the house running on wireless electricity with a gigantic wall power plate is ridiculous for this reason, but one doesn't have to give up technology to live safely - just use it carefully, and in moderation.

  • 1
    In the interests of avoiding publication bias, while looking for how the DNA Damage paper had been received by the scientific community, I found this meta-analysis supporting your point: worldneurosurgery.org/article/S0090-3019(09)00145-1/abstract
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 4:07
  • 15
    Note this answer doesn't address the question. Mobile phone correlation to some cancers is weak evidence (living longer is also associated with cancer). However, even if there was clear evidence of causality, that is a totally different condition to EHS. Some radioactivity causes serious illness and death, but that doesn't mean people are "sensitive" to it.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 4:11
  • 14
    I don't think expanding the definition helps anyone. There is a group that claim they (and a large group of others) get severely affected immediately in the presence of some (ill-defined?) subset of EMF. Tests show that isn't strictly true; they get severely-affected by the belief that they are being radiated, which is a totally different condition, with different treatments. None of this is related to the alleged long-term effects. Your answer might better be suited for this question.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 5:00
  • 5
    The heart rate example is from Magda Havas who does not exactly have a track record of reliable experimental technique. See her paper referenced in this question: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6831/… . I think the journal where this result was published is not exactly a mainstream journal likely to do serious peer review on this topic. And her experimental technique for blinding is very suspect.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 18:44
  • 7
    "Some US universities have banned wifi because of its effects on concentration and attention span" Does this have any relation to EHS or is that just because many students are too busy checking Facebook to listen to the lectures?
    – Ken Y-N
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 6:27

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