Feb 2, 2017

Effects of personalised exposure on self-rated electromagnetic hypersensitivity and sensibility – A double-blind randomised controlled trial

Imke van Moorselaar, Pauline Slottje, Pia Heller, Rob van Strien, Hans Kromhout, Manuel Murbach, Niels Kuster, Roel Vermeulen, and Anke Huss, Environment International 2017, Volume 99, pp. 255–262, February 2017, online 09 December 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.11.031.

Previous provocation experiments with persons who report electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) have been criticized because the requirement for EHS subjects to travel to the study sites is seen as a source of stress that could impact results. Towards reducing this potential source of stress, the IT’IS Foundation has developed and characterized novel mobile exposure units (sXEs) that allow – for the first time - experiments to be performed in an environment familiar to the EHS study subject under double-blinded exposure conditions with personalized exposure settings (signal type, strength, duration). The aim of this study was to investigate  whether subjects are able to identify the exposure conditions that evoke a response and to assess whether providing feedback on personal test results alters the level of self-reported EHS. The subjects were first tested in unblinded “open” exposure sessions to select the signals and field strengths to be used in subsequent double-blinded sessions, which consisted of a series of 10 exposure and sham exposures in random sequence. Of the 42 participating test subjects, no participant was able to correctly identify better than chance when they were being exposed. The results show that, at 2 and 4 months of follow-up, there were no statistically significant differences in subjects' self-reported levels of EHS or certainty of being hypersensitive to EM field exposure compared to baseline. The study results suggest that a subgroup of persons exist who may profit from participation in a personalized testing procedure. Although participants did report reduced certainty of reacting to exposure within minutes as well as significantly fewer symptoms compared to baseline, it cannot be proven that the reduction was due to participation in the study.

The scientific and technical impact of the study can be summarized as:

  • The novel sXEs mobile exposure units developed by IT'IS that facilitate double-blinded RF and ELF exposure of volunteers in familiar environments of their choice were successfully deployed to test EHS subjects who claim to react to EMF exposure within minutes.
  • The investigators, who recognize that at-home testing is less standardized than shielded and controlled exposure conditions in an anechoic laboratory, used open/unblinded exposure sessions in this study to verify that each participant would react to the exposure applied.
  • The strengths of the study include that previous criticism of provocation trials were considered and that the test was personalized for exposure that had been confirmed to evoke reaction in each of the participants.