Radiation Review: Some People May be 'Allergic' to Cell Phones, Computers

May 15, 2009 By Lisa Zyga feature
Cell phone tower in Nyakrom, Agona District, Ghana. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(PhysOrg.com) -- How exactly does the radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMF) affect the human body? Is it possible that cell phones, computer monitors, TVs, and other electronic devices - which operate within current EMF safety standards - cause illnesses, or are the people who claim to be sensitive to these devices just paranoid? The topic is one of the most controversial subjects in technology today, having important consequences in politics, consumerism, human rights, and health costs.

Olle Johansson, an associate professor and head of the Experimental Unit, Department of Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, has been investigating the effects of electromagnetic fields on human physiology since the early ‘80s. Johansson’s research has led him to become an outspoken supporter of the view that the dangers of EMF radiation from our gadgets are real, and that existing safety standards, which are based on acute thermal effects only, do not adequately protect public health.

In a review to be published in an upcoming issue of Pathophysiology, Johansson has summarized the results from dozens of studies that have investigated the effects of EMFs on the in particular. As he explains, EMFs can act like an allergen, disturbing by eliciting various allergic and inflammatory responses. Johansson hopes that this review, along with the reviews in the extensive Bioinitiative Report published in 2007 that have identified harmful effects from wireless technologies, will urge policymakers to create new public safety limits and limit the future deployment of untested technologies.

“The paper acts like a very strong warning signal and should evoke action,” Johansson told PhysOrg.com, noting that the Bioinitiative Report has already had an influence. For example, in the “European Parliament resolution of 4 September 2008 on the mid-term review of the European Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010 (2007/2252(INI)),” the European Parliament acknowledges that exposure levels need to be based on biological factors, not just heating effects. A report from the European Parliament on February 23, 2009, “On health concerns associated with electromagnetic fields,” also investigates stricter exposure limits.

In the current review, Johansson explains that the human immune system has evolved to deal with its known enemies, and not with electromagnetic “allergens” (e.g. TV signals, radiowaves, microwaves from cell phones or WiFi, radar signals, X-rays, artificial radioactivity, etc.) which have been introduced within the last 100 years. Our immune systems have developed under the influence of the sun’s radiation and the practically static geomagnetic field, he explains, but not under electromagnetic waves at other frequencies, or the magnetic and microwave pulses generated, for example, by cell phones.

As Johansson explains, antigens are substances that cause the immune system to react in an excessive manner, so that the immune system becomes damaging to local tissue and the entire body in general. Such hypersensitivity reactions can be caused by environmental disturbances that are small enough to enter the immune system. Examples can include dust and drugs, which can enter the respiratory tract or at site-specific locations. Another example is EMFs, which penetrate the entire body.

Different electronic devices produce EMFs that vary in strength, frequency, and pattern. While some studies have found associations between, for example, power lines and leukemia, or brain tumors and cell phones, other studies point out that no biological mechanism causing these illnesses has been identified. As Johansson argues, many studies assume that the only biological mechanism that causes adverse effects is the acute heating of cells and tissues, although he says that non-thermal effects, such as EMFs acting as antigens in the immune system, can occur before heating can be detected, especially after long-term exposure.

In some of the studies that Johansson summarizes, people claim to suffer from subjective and objective symptoms when exposed to electronic devices. Electrohypersensitivity (EHS) affects an estimated 3% to 10% of the population, he says, and often leads to lost work and productivity. In Johansson’s review, some studies hypothesize that people who claim adverse skin reactions after exposure to computer screens or mobile phones may actually have a correct avoidance reaction to the radiation. As he explains, the skin contains mast cells, which are known to react to external radiation such as radioactivity, X-rays, and UV light. Studies have found that skin samples of EHS people after radiation exposure have a higher number of mast cells in the upper dermis, and mast cells infiltrate other layers of the skin that don’t normally have them. EMFs may also cause mast cells to “degranulate,” releasing inflammatory substances that are involved in allergic hypersensitivity, itching, and pain. In previous theoretical studies, Johansson has proposed a model for how a proliferation of mast cells (mastocytosis) could explain sensitivity to EMFs. As in an allergic reaction, EMFs likely affect people differently based on varying immune functions due to variations in genetic make-up.

Johansson points out that some of the studies in his and other’s papers have not been included in surveys by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), suggesting that these organizations have ignored relevant research due to incorrect assumptions of the levels of EMFs that can have a biological influence.

Johansson’s overall argument is that more research needs to be done on possible non-thermal mechanisms of EMFs’ damage to the human body, and investigations into immune system response in particular could lead to the discovery of a specific mechanism for biological damage. Considering that hundreds of thousands of individuals are estimated to have electrohypersensitivity, there is a lot at stake in the issue, including how to accommodate people with this functional impairment. Understanding the biological effects of EMF also makes economic sense, Johansson says, in terms of future public health costs. Importantly, he argues for a biologically based EMF exposure limit that can be presumed to cause no adverse impacts on human health. A completely protective safety limit based on today’s information, he says, would be zero.

“Of course, philosophically we can discuss this forever, but practically one has to allow for a certain level of uncertainty if a specific gadget or technique has unique advantages,” Johansson said. “If such unique advantages cannot be proven, then maybe the consumers should demand for a complete ban? It quickly boils down to if, for example, the future public health is less important than people's freedom today to use wireless technologies.”

More information: O. Johansson, Disturbance of the immune system by electromagnetic fields - A potentially underlying cause for cellular damage and tissue repair reduction which could lead to disease and impairment, Pathophysiology (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.pathophys.2009.03.004.

Copyright 2009 PhysOrg.com.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of PhysOrg.com.

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QubitTamer
3.8 / 5 (6) May 15, 2009
At last some real science done on the effects of non-ionizing radiation on the human body vice the financially motivated hoaxes popular in the U.K. claiming cell phones cause cancers.

I know that sometimes when i first walk out into strong sunlight i will sneeze two or three times but have no other allergic symptoms or reactions other than that, so in my mind there is likely quite some merit to this research and more should be done along a similar line.
docknowledge
4 / 5 (7) May 15, 2009
I was standing in line with someone who turned out to be an RFI expert for a cell phone company. The conversation was very pleasant -- until I suggested there might be risks with cell phones. I was told flatly: "There aren't any."

Except, like QubitTamer, I experienced the effects myself. With an early analog cell phone. After 10 minutes to my ear, that side of my head would be hot, and sweat would be pouring down.

It brings to mind a quote, "It's impossible to convince someone of something that would affect their paycheck."
PaulLove
4 / 5 (4) May 15, 2009
keep in mind that if wireless effects are found to have harmful side effects you are going to open that whole can of worms with high voltagelines again, and that whole case was bought and paid for so obviously there are no harmful effects the judge said so.
wolfkeeper
3.1 / 5 (7) May 15, 2009
I suggested there might be risks with cell phones. I was told flatly: "There aren't any."

Except, like QubitTamer, I experienced the effects myself. With an early analog cell phone. After 10 minutes to my ear, that side of my head would be hot, and sweat would be pouring down.

Oh yeah, that could be radio waves (or even just a hot phone- they dissipate quite a bit of power internally); it's well known that radio waves can give simple thermal effects. But you can get the same thing by sticking your ear next to a radiator- that isn't risky either.
am_Unition
4.4 / 5 (7) May 15, 2009
The bottom line is simple: your calcium cranium is not a Faraday cage, and every synapse is based on an EM interaction.

The major question is more difficult: to *exactly* what degree does our advanced civilization's EM smog have on our bodies and minds?
ormondotvos
4.7 / 5 (3) May 15, 2009
Keep on hypothesizing, and experimenting, and metastudying.

Maybe something will come of it, and for sure, we'll learn a lot.
tpb
2.6 / 5 (10) May 15, 2009
What a load of #@!%, there is no known mechanism by which non-ionising radiation can affect the human body.

He babbles about mast cells being affected by UV, x-rays and radioactivity and then compares this with radio waves and magnetic fields with no evidence or plausible mechanism of any kind.

If "Electrohypersensitivity" exists, it should be easy to find doing double blind tests.

This is the kind of junk-science that reminds me of the false link between MMR vacines and autism, which caused millions of people to not vaccinate their children, many of them died for no good reason.

Let's have some evidence, not baseless conjecture before we scare our scientifically ignorant population again.

E_L_Earnhardt
3.7 / 5 (6) May 15, 2009
"ALL RAYS ARE ELECTRONS" (Handbook Of Chemistry And Physics.) All "rays" induce "heat". "Heat" accelerates mitosis. Neural and Gene signals involve electrons. X-rays and Cosmic rays are proven disrupters of cellular mechanics. etc.
brant
4.2 / 5 (5) May 15, 2009
What a load of #@!%, there is no known mechanism by which non-ionising radiation can affect the human body.



That is a common fallacy.

Because you dont know, it must not be...




hooloovoo
3.3 / 5 (3) May 15, 2009
Could someone please tell me in what form an electromagnetic wave can deposit energy, other than heat?
bmcghie
5 / 5 (4) May 15, 2009
All rays are electrons? Um... no, that's just beta radiation. Rays of alpha radiation are, gasp, helium nuclei! I'll refrain from going off on the whole "dual nature of light" thingy... which is due to photons.

Until I see the exact mechanism of EM interference affecting proteins in the human body, I'm going to stick with the thermal energy mechanism (which is more than harmful enough in some situations). It's not enough to say Mast cells are sensitive to EM radiation. You have to say HOW. Give me a theory of misfolding due to excitation of atomic bonds, something, anything!
Sean_W
1.8 / 5 (5) May 15, 2009
"EMFs can act like an allergen"



Take an anti histamine.



Light causes sneezing because momentary tearing affects the sinuses.



Maybe, since it is so hard to demonstrate the effect on an individual level, these researchers might show us a correlation between instances of "EMF allergies" or their symptom intensity with increased exposure over time. The number of waves we are exposed to has increased dramatically over time so there should be a dramatic increase in such "allergies". But then, everyone "knows" that violent video games cause people to become violent even though crime rates have dropped as games proliferate and become more graphic. So I guess observation and data is no longer a valid part of science.
Bob_Kob
2.4 / 5 (8) May 15, 2009
I don't know about anyone else but whenever a bluetooth device is active in a room I can feel it, like the shiver in the back of your neck.

Say what you will but the brain is an electromagnetic organ.
TJ_alberta
5 / 5 (3) May 15, 2009
high power radio stations have been in operation and common for over 80 years. the amount of rf floating around commercial transmitters until quite recently was sufficient to light all the fluorescent tubes in a transmitter building to full brilliance -- with no wiring!! did anyone notice that a high portion - or even a significant portion of the staff at these installations developed leukemia, other forms of cancer, etc (similar to asbestos workers). I don't think so. then we can go on to look at all the thousands of workers who operate electric arc furnaces, work in generating stations, etc. etc. If biological electromagnetic effects exist they are very subtle. On the other hand, dangers of heating effects were noticed very soon after high power microwave devices were developed.

I use a microwave oven to heat left-overs but I would never stand in front of a working radar dish! and I also try to minimize cell phone use even though the danger is probably too small to quantify.
Mercury_01
2 / 5 (4) May 16, 2009
Just wait till you retards find out what kind of energy they're putting into our troposphere. And verily, our brains...
wwaldenn
4.2 / 5 (5) May 16, 2009
First, to explain the comment about sneezing in the sun, that's due to a recessive trait experienced by ~25 % of the population. The eyes overreact to a sharp increase in light, whereby a signal from the eye, to the brain, to the nose, causes you to sneeze. It has nothing to do with the tear ducts, or allergens. You can try it indoors with a bright flashlight, and it works. I have this gene.

Second, I doubt the claims in this article. My guess is that an increased 'susceptibility' for cancer is probably caused by the changes in lifestyle that accompanied the invention of electronic devices in the last century, and not the devices themselves. Driving cars instead of walking, eating meat every day instead of as an occasional delicacy, as well as sleeping less than 8-9 hours a day, all play a real effect on the body. Each of these examples are changes from how most people lived in a world without cars, mass production, and electricity for indoor lighting. Each of these also came about shortly before EMF devices were invented.
Linda95959
1 / 5 (2) May 17, 2009
I would like to suggest that whatever the effect, that the EMF devices are addictive. Do you know anyone that is either on the cell phone, computer or watching T.V. all the time?
hooloovoo
5 / 5 (2) May 17, 2009
I would like to suggest that whatever the effect, that the EMF devices are addictive. Do you know anyone that is either on the cell phone, computer or watching T.V. all the time?

Are you serious? I suppose it's obvious that people are addicted to EM radiation, and not that the devices are just useful.
magpies
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2009
Every thing has a magnetic field and strong magnetic fields have an effect on weak ones. So these EM devices obv have an effect. The question is does having a TV become worth losing your mind ever?
PattyMN
1 / 5 (1) May 17, 2009
Glad to finally see something about this! I can "feel" the instrusive waves. I feel a "hum" or a "buzz" that is generally annoying. I start waking up at about four in the morning when the traffic picks up on the highway a couple of blocks away; cell phone activity increasing. Have not installed wireless because of it. Can especially feel the "buzz" when we get too close to the power line towers. Occasionally, it becomes incredibly bothersome, to the point I can't sleep; I feel as if I'm being "bombarded." I've wondered if it would subside if, as an experiment, I "papered" our bedroom walls and ceiling with aluminum foil. Keep up this research!
BBPhD
1.5 / 5 (2) May 17, 2009
To the guy who said there's no known mechanism: you are spreading misinformation. There are known effects and mechanisms that make physical sense. The microwave hearing effect is a clear example (people can hear pulsed microwaves), although the underlying mechanism remains disputed. The pearl chain effect is a known, non-thermal mechanism (colloid particles and blood cells line up and form chains in RF fields); whether it relates to cancer is unclear. Several other mechanisms are in the literature: see Binhi's book Magnetobiology for an in-depth review. The recent research showing cows point north (in PNAS) and EHV power lines double the rate of Alzheimer's are clear. We don't know the mechanism in every case. But read the impressive paper on how the quantum Zeno effect used in modern magnetometers explains what's known about magnetic navigation of birds.
WoodyMart
3 / 5 (3) May 18, 2009
If Olle Johansson is reading this , please take note. My experience will concur with your studies. I travel extensively in rural Manitoba Canada. I visit every farm , every enviornment condition possible. I have no known allergies. Never have. I am now 57 years old.

However , when I arrive to within 1/4 mile of mt home at the end of my day , I begin to sneeze , I have extreme runny nose , for about 29 minutes. It is like I have been hit by every alergy known to man. Yet I have no alergies. Within 1/4 mile of my home is a 365 foot telephone cellular transmitter tower. Very high power for rural Canada service. Only in this area do I have such alergic symptoms. I concur with your studies Olle Johansson. martin.woodside3@gmail.com







searcher
1 / 5 (1) May 18, 2009
I believe that conclusions of the research are true. Maybe, not for all human population but for a quite large part of it. And we shell take it into account by working out standarts.

An interesting example of another type of human body reaction on EM radiation represents seanse of NMR diagnostics of brain (NMR = nuclear magnetic resonance). After it, many persons feel some kind of euphoria, staying in very good mood. Without side effects.
physpuppy
3.7 / 5 (3) May 19, 2009
Hmm, I remember feeling quite euphoric after a half hour of being in an NMR for an experiment . Hard to tell if it was an effect of the exceptionally strong magnetic field, the pulsed RF to which I was exposed or that there were two very pretty young female research scientists fussing over me all the time.
docknowledge
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2009
I suggested there might be risks with cell phones. I was told flatly: "There aren't any."

Except, like QubitTamer, I experienced the effects myself. With an early analog cell phone. After 10 minutes to my ear, that side of my head would be hot, and sweat would be pouring down.


Oh yeah, that could be radio waves (or even just a hot phone-they dissipate quite a bit of power internally); it's well known that radio waves can give simple thermal effects. But you can get the same thing by sticking your ear next to a radiator-that isn't risky either.


I should have mentioned, but this is more on the subjective side...the heat on my head didn't feel like a heating pad or a hot water bottle...and I'm not sure the phone itself was hot. (Unfortunately, this was a long time ago, before this was an issue.) One person did tell me that this was a problem with analog phones, that was not as significant with lower-power digital.
lengould100
5 / 5 (2) May 20, 2009
One thing for sure. If there is or ever was, enough decent evidence for any EM effect, from 'phones to powerlines etc. strong enough to stand even the superficial scrutiny of a legal court, then some shark lawyer would have brought a case with it and won a huge fee for doing so.
HCoin
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2009
There is a study linking the static electric field at ground level (changes from - to and back during weather and daytime), the quantity of ionized particles in the air of the other polarity, blood chemistry occuring in the lung capillary action and brain seritonin levels relative to migraine headaches.



All it takes is for the right electric or magnetic field to be near the right two molecules when they are close enough together. Even if the molecules are not themselves ions, but merely polar in their electric potential they will align and increase the chances of chemical reactions that occur in that alignment.

jonnyboy
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2009
One thing for sure. If there is or ever was, enough decent evidence for any EM effect, from 'phones to powerlines etc. strong enough to stand even the superficial scrutiny of a legal court, then some shark lawyer would have brought a case with it and won a huge fee for doing so.


Straight to the heart of the matter lengould100, I couldn't agree more!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Nan2
not rated yet May 22, 2009
The research is very germane and should continue and expand. A recent study of children who used cell phones at least 2hr before bed revealed disruption in REM sleep patterns. What we don't know is vastly more than what we do know folks particularly about the brain and how it functions. Arrogance, monetary influences and 'beliefs' have no room in science.

I lived for 25 years in a very high voltage EMF very near an easement of a major power company. That long exposure (the buzz from the lines were audible in my home-touching the fence produced a shock) may or may not have resulted in the serious auto-immune diseases I've suffered from since. My immune system effectively short circuited-no family predisposition, I was the lucky first to have my immune system fail to recognize my own tissues. It started with my thyroid (remember the brain pituitary's is involved in those hormonal processes) and now has continued to erode to include other serious disease over time. Although EMF exposure might not be the sole cause, it could have played an important role, particularly since usual hereditary markers were not present in my particular case.

Could increased EMFs also account for increased infertility among subsets of women? Could EMFs account for earlier menses in girls in a relatively short time span? Could there be a correlation between EMFS and the increased incidence of bipolar disorders, sleep disturbances and other conditions? There are many avenues of influence which require closer examination. High EMF exposure over time could provide important clues to length of exposure from lower ones over long periods of time.

Linda95959
not rated yet May 23, 2009
I think you can rule out EMF's causing early memses in girls. There is authority that believes the consumption of soy products is responsible for early memses. So, if we have a model of what we will be in the future, we will be addicted to cell phones, television, and computers, and eat only soy products. In other words we will be wrierd and wacked out. Fresh air, good exercise, and good food be damned. It is not that the glass is half empty or half full. We are half way there.
Au-Pu
1 / 5 (1) May 24, 2009
If we find this acceptable then we would have to abandon the idea that tobacco products are a health hazard and conclude that it is all due to allergic reactions
Crap!

Oh and Linda95959 the word is menses