Some people worry about 5G damaging their health. Sleep disorders, tinnitus, headaches – some even believe they can sense electromagnetic fields and feel them affecting their body. But is this even possible? Read on for more about the most frequent complaints and answers to pressing questions.
Dizziness, headaches, sleep disorders, tinnitus? Didn’t they just put up a mobile phone mast in the neighbourhood? For almost 40 years, people have been ascribing symptoms, some of them quite severe, to electrical, magnetic and electromagnetic fields. The collective term “electrohypersensitivity” is often used as a term for the idea that these fields might affect our physical and mental well-being.
Those affected used to blame the domestic electricity supply for their complaints, some of which were serious and measurable. Now, with the expansion of mobile networks progressing, around a third of them suspect that their symptoms are being caused by radio frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Complaints mentioned in this respect include skin disorders such as rashes, tingling or burning sensations along with aching limbs, exhaustion, heart palpitations, nosebleeds, nausea, digestive disorders, reduced learning ability or cognitive performance and problems with memory retention or ability to respond.
Many of these people now fear that their symptoms might be exacerbated by the expansion of the 5G network.
“Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields” (IEI-EMF) is spoken of colloquially as “electrohypersensitivity” or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” (EHS). Those affected think they may be more sensitive or susceptible than others to electrical, magnetic and electromagnetic fields. This is found above all in industrial countries, and most especially in Germany and Scandinavia: some sections of the population consider themselves to be “electrosensitive” – although the people in question almost never use the term. In Germany, people claiming to experience such effects amount to between 1.5 and 10 per cent of the overall population. For a few, the psychological strain is as severe as that they withdraw from social spaces.
Since the beginning of the 1980s, the connection between the above-named symptoms and electrical, magnetic and electromagnetic fields has been investigated in a wide variety of scientific studies:
Among the most commonly perceived symptoms of any potential electrohypersensitivity are sleep disorders or an impairment of sleep quality. However, there has so far been no proof of any connection. To date, no study has been able to demonstrate any negative influence of electromagnetic fields upon sleeping behaviour. It was observed in a few studies that the quality of the subject’s sleep deteriorated once a base station had been installed in the vicinity of the subject’s home. However, this happened whether or not the station had been started up, suggesting that concern about potential health damage was the actual cause of sleep impairment rather than the electromagnetic fields.
Scientific studies have been unable to establish any connection between electromagnetic fields and the well-being or cognitive performance – that is to say, mental performance – of either adults or children. Studies involving young and older mobile phone users show that mobiles, not mobile phone masts, are capable of slightly influencing brain activity, although this is only visible on an EEG. This effect is not subjectively discernible and is not reflected in behaviour, cognitive performance or sleep quality.
None of the three projects conducted within the framework of the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Programme (DMF) of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) has demonstrated that mobile communications have any influence upon our hearing or sight. They did however rule out one particular notion: proximity to radiation sources does not trigger tinnitus.
All the studies indicate that mobile communications do not affect our well-being
National and international studies all indicate consistently that electromagnetic fields cannot be sensed by human beings. Likewise, science has to date been unable to establish any connection between electromagnetic fields in the range below the limits and health complaints – including sleep disorders and tinnitus. According to the BfS, there is currently no objective and verifiable diagnosis for electrohypersensitivity. No plausible mechanism of action is known. Overall, the investigations conducted suggest that there is no health risk. This appraisal by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection is also shared by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by the EU’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) managed by the European Commission.
With a view to ruling out any possible risks, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety is planning further investigations into the influence of electromagnetic fields on well-being and health. Recent studies also take the expansion of the 5G mobile network into account.
There are clear indications that careful behavioural therapy steps can alleviate the symptoms of electrosensitive patients. This suggests that their complaints are at least partly psychosomatic – in essence products of the subject’s mental perception. It is possible that such complaints can be caused by the so-called nocebo effect.
The symptoms developed by patients with IEI-EMF are therefore not caused by the actual electromagnetic fields. Such symptoms might perhaps be triggered by the sight of a mobile communications installation or power supply line – by expectation and concern about the complaints these installations might cause. In DMF studies, test subjects also developed complaints when, for example, mobile phone masts had already been erected but had not yet been connected (sham exposure). The appearance of symptoms can also be attributed to other factors, such as poor air supply or stress in the subject’s working or living environment.
Patients often blame electromagnetic fields for aetiological symptoms that are actually attributable to a physical illness. In such cases, medical advice should be sought urgently, as health complaints should always be taken seriously. Following treatment by professionals, a self-help group for affected people can be of valuable help.
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