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Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it describes a condition in which individuals claim to suffer ill-health as a result of exposure to electrical or magnetic radiation from kettles, television sets, computers, power lines, or mobile phone base stations. Symptoms include burning sensations, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances.

The term has been around in a quiet way for some time (the first example I’ve found is in Robert O Becker’s Cross Currents of 1990), but it had wide circulation in Britain in May 2006 or so as a result of a series of reports in popular newspapers focussing on the condition. It is also known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome (EHS) and sufferers are sometimes described as electromagnetic hypersensitives or as being electrosensitive.

It is controversial, with no study finding a clear link between low-level electromagnetic radiation and symptoms. Researchers are sure that those complaining of symptoms are sincere, experiencing a real problem that can be disabling, but can find no evidence that suggests a connection with radiation.

We wanted to inform the Health Secretary about the debilitating symptoms experienced by electro-sensitive people. Patricia Hewitt was sympathetic whilst seemingly unaware of the electromagnetic hypersensitivity problem.

Birmingham Mail, 12 Jan. 2006

If there’s no real explanation, perhaps a “placebo” explanation — like “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” — can have almost all the same properties as a real one.

Guardian, 13 May 2006

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 3 Jun. 2006

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Last modified: 3 June 2006.