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Reviews on Environmental Health

Editor-in-Chief: Carpenter, David O. / Sly, Peter

Editorial Board: Brugge, Doug / Edwards, John W. / Field, R.William / Garbisu, Carlos / Hales, Simon / Horowitz, Michal / Lawrence, Roderick / Maibach, H.I. / Shaw, Susan / Tao, Shu / Tchounwou, Paul B.

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Volume 30, Issue 4


Electromagnetic hypersensitivity – an increasing challenge to the medical profession

Lena Hedendahl / Michael Carlberg / Lennart Hardell
Published Online: 2015-09-15 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2015-0012



In 1970, a report from the former Soviet Union described the “microwave syndrome” among military personnel, working with radio and radar equipment, who showed symptoms that included fatigue, dizziness, headaches, problems with concentration and memory, and sleep disturbances. Similar symptoms were found in the 1980s among Swedes working in front of cathode ray tube monitors, with symptoms such as flushing, burning, and tingling of the skin, especially on the face, but also headaches, dizziness, tiredness, and photosensitivity. The same symptoms are reported in Finns, with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) being attributed to exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). Of special concern is involuntary exposure to radiofrequency (RF)-EMF from different sources. Most people are unaware of this type of exposure, which has no smell, color, or visibility. There is an increasing concern that wireless use of laptops and iPads in Swedish schools, where some have even abandoned textbooks, will exacerbate the exposure to EMF.


We have surveyed the literature on different aspects of EHS and potential adverse health effects of RF-EMF. This is exemplified by case reports from two students and one teacher who developed symptoms of EHS in schools using Wi-Fi.


In population-based surveys, the prevalence of EHS has ranged from 1.5% in Sweden to 13.3% in Taiwan. Provocation studies on EMF have yielded different results, ranging from where people with EHS cannot discriminate between an active RF signal and placebo, to objectively observed changes following exposure in reactions of the pupil, changes in heart rhythm, damage to erythrocytes, and disturbed glucose metabolism in the brain. The two students and the teacher from the case reports showed similar symptoms, while in school environments, as those mentioned above.


Austria is the only country with a written suggestion to guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems. Apart from this, EHS is not recognized as a specific diagnosis in the rest of the world, and no established treatment exists.


It seems necessary to give an International Classification of Diseases to EHS to get it accepted as EMF-related health problems. The increasing exposure to RF-EMF in schools is of great concern and needs better attention. Longer-term health effects are unknown. Parents, teachers, and school boards have the responsibility to protect children from unnecessary exposure.

Keywords: medical diagnosis; prevention; radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF); school children; Wi-Fi


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About the article

Corresponding author: Lena Hedendahl, MD, Research and Innovation Unit, County Council of Norrbotten, SE-971 89 Luleå, Sweden, E-mail:

Received: 2015-06-29

Accepted: 2015-08-17

Published Online: 2015-09-15

Published in Print: 2015-12-01

Citation Information: Reviews on Environmental Health, Volume 30, Issue 4, Pages 209–215, ISSN (Online) 2191-0308, ISSN (Print) 0048-7554, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2015-0012.

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