EMFs: What they are, effects on health, and more (2023)

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An electromagnetic field (EMF) is an area of moving electrical charges. Some EMFs, especially those involving ionizing radiation, can be harmful.

For most people, exposure to EMFs occurs on a daily basis, as the fields are virtually everywhere.

These fields can come from natural sources, such as thunderstorms, or they may be manufactured, as are radio waves, microwaves, and X-rays, for example.

According to experts, EMFs from manufactured sources, such as microwaves, do not damage human health at the level of exposure that people experience on a day-to-day basis.

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EMFs exist on a spectrum, and a field’s location on the spectrum depends on its wavelength and frequency.

There are two types of EMF. One has the capacity to break chemical bonds and the other does not.

The types are:

Ionizing

Fields of ionizing radiation have higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths.

The energy from this type of radiation can remove electrons from atoms, including those comprising water and living tissue.

This breaks chemical bonds.

In the human body, high doses of ionizing radiation can prompt unstable atoms called free radicals to cause oxidative damage.

Some more common sources of ionizing radiation are gamma rays, which can help treat cancer, and X-rays.

Visible light exists toward the middle of the spectrum, marking the dividing line between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

Non-ionizing

Non-ionizing EMFs have a longer wavelength and a lower frequency. They cannot break chemical bonds.

Non-ionizing fields are present in many natural and manufactured forms.

Some sources of non-ionizing EMFs include:

  • radiofrequency radiation, as in many communication devices
  • microwaves
  • ultraviolet radiation, as in tanning beds
  • infrared radiation, as in heat lamps
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Ionizing

Ionizing radiation can be harmful because it can break chemical bonds and change the molecular and chemical structures of various substances, including human tissue.

Overall, a person is more likely to experience damage if they are exposed to high levels of radiation over a longer period. This could occur, for example, if a person undergoes numerous X-rays without protection.

High doses of ionizing radiation can cause immediate damage, such as:

  • burns
  • hair loss
  • skin damage
  • organ and tissue damage
  • damage to a developing fetus
  • damage to bone marrow

This form of radiation can also cause long-term health problems, even when a person has had no immediate symptoms.

Problems that can develop over a longer period can include:

  • oxidative damage
  • fertility complications
  • effects on a developing fetus
  • cancer

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), medical applications, such as X-rays and radiation therapy, account for 98% of the population dose contribution from all manufactured sources of radiation, representing 20% of the population’s total exposure.

Doctors and other healthcare providers can minimize the risk of exposure by using lead shields to protect areas of the body that are not targets for the radiation.

Non-ionizing

Typical levels of exposure to non-ionizing radiation should not affect human health. In ordinary circumstances, non-ionizing radiation simply passes through the body without causing harm.

Specific concerns have involved possible interference with devices such as pacemakers.

However, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), pacemakers are not typically affected by radiation from household appliances, such as microwaves, computers, and Bluetooth wireless technology.

Yet the AHA do recommend keeping antennae and motors roughly 6 inches away from a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.

Other concerns have involved cell phones as a possible cause of cancer. As the authors of a 2016 article in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine have noted, evidence of a connection between cell phone radiation and cancer has, so far, been weak and insubstantial.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radiofrequency radiation as a “possible human carcinogen.” This is a highly debated topic, and scientific studies are currently being conducted to determine whether cell phone use may cause adverse health effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, “More research is needed before we know if using cell phones causes health effects.”

Non-ionizing radiation can create heat, as in a microwave. While this heat is not typically dangerous, in certain circumstances, it can harm human body tissue.

For example, people who work in industrial or scientific settings and who are exposed to very high doses of non-ionizing radiation may be at risk of tissue damage.

Certain organs are more vulnerable — the eyes and testes, for example, are more susceptible to this damage because they have a low blood supply and less capacity to regulate temperature.

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Overall, the risk of damage from non-ionizing radiation is low, and it only occurs after a person has been exposed to high levels of the radiation for a long time.

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), or radiation sickness, can be severe. It usually develops after exposure to very high levels of radiation in a short period, possibly minutes.

ARS is most likely to occur if radiation penetrates a person’s internal organs and a majority of their body has received some exposure.

A person with ARS may experience symptoms within minutes of exposure, and the symptoms may come and go for several days.

Symptoms of ARS include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • a headache

According to the CDC, a person may recover for a period, then feel ill again, experiencing the same symptoms or others. These can be severe, and may include:

  • fatigue
  • a loss of appetite
  • a fever
  • seizures
  • a coma

A person should seek emergency medical aid if they think that they have been exposed to high levels of radiation.

This can happen due to:

  • extensive exposure to ultraviolet light, during an unusually long period in a tanning bed, for example
  • extensive exposure to X-rays
  • an accident at or near a nuclear power plant
  • contact with radioactive waste
  • the effects of a nuclear bomb

In most cases, damage occurs after long-term exposure, such as when skin cancer develops after many years of frequent, unprotected sun exposure.

People should seek medical attention if they have any symptoms of tissue damage or chronic radiation exposure, such as:

  • Problems with fertility: See a doctor about multiple pregnancy losses or any difficulty conceiving.
  • Unexplained pain: Consult a doctor about pain with no clear cause, especially if any internal organs seem to be involved.
  • Symptoms of cancer: These include skin changes, a tumor, or changes in the way that the body functions.

The best approach will depend on the nature and extent of the exposure.

In most cases, doctors focus on managing symptoms by keeping their patients hydrated and treating any burns.

Some people require treatment involving the bone marrow, such as a transplant.

The lower the radiation dose, the more likely it is that the person will recover. The speed of recovery can range from several weeks to about 2 years.

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Some companies perform field surveys to assess the levels and safety of radiation in a building, area, or geographic region.

Also, EMF meters for home use are available. A person can purchase an EMF meter online.

By testing the blood, a doctor may be able to identify harmful exposure to ionizing radiation.

Typically, doctors conduct these tests in response to an event such as an accident at a nuclear power plant or the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

Exposure to non-ionizing radiation at typical levels is not harmful. However, exposure to ionizing radiation can be a serious threat to health, if the right precautions are not in place.

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People should take steps to limit their exposure to ionizing EMFs, by wearing sunscreen, for example.

It is important to also note that ionizing radiation, in X-rays or cancer therapy, for example, can play a crucial role in medical care.

FAQs

How does EMF affect health? ›

Some members of the public have attributed a diffuse collection of symptoms to low levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields at home. Reported symptoms include headaches, anxiety, suicide and depression, nausea, fatigue and loss of libido.

What are the dangers of high EMF? ›

Higher-frequency EMFs, which include x-rays and gamma rays. These EMFs are in the ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum and can damage DNA or cells directly.

What are the symptoms of EMF? ›

The symptoms most commonly experienced include dermatological symptoms (redness, tingling, and burning sensations) as well as neurasthenic and vegetative symptoms (fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances).

What does EMF do to your brain? ›

It has been found that RF-EMF can induce changes in central nervous system nerve cells, including neuronal cell apoptosis, changes in the function of the nerve myelin and ion channels; furthermore, RF-EMF act as a stress source in living creatures.

Do cell phones emit EMF? ›

Cell phones emit radiation in the radiofrequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation cell phones (2G, 3G, 4G) emit radiofrequency in the frequency range of 0.7–2.7 GHz. Fifth-generation (5G) cell phones are anticipated to use the frequency spectrum up to 80 GHz.

Does EMF affect sleep? ›

Since, EMFs can act as a chronic stressor stimulus, and affect the sleep quality.

Is EMF from WIFI harmful? ›

Health effects of Wi-Fi

There are no health risks from exposure to radiofrequency EMF from Wi-Fi devices in your home, in schools or other areas accessible to the public. These devices must meet standards to ensure they do not exceed radiofrequency EMF exposure limits.

Does EMF affect immune system? ›

EMFs disturb immune function through stimulation of various allergic and inflammatory responses, as well as effects on tissue repair processes. Such disturbances increase the risks for various diseases, including cancer.

Can EMF cause heart problems? ›

EMF exposure can affect structure and function of cardiovascular system and may facilitate myocardial infarction by nuclear changing of cardiomyocytes. Exposure to EMFs induced pain or pressure in the chest area, heart palpitations and/or an irregular heartbeat.

How can we reduce radiation in our body? ›

Gently washing with water and soap removes additional radiation particles from the skin. Decontamination prevents radioactive materials from spreading more. It also lowers the risk of internal contamination from inhalation, ingestion or open wounds.

What is the basic cause of EMF? ›

The most basic cause of an induced EMF is change in magnetic flux. 2. Placing a current carrying coil that is moving constantly in a stable and static magnetic field. This will cause a change in the area vector and hence, EMF will be generated.

Does EMF affect mental health? ›

EMF regulation (2016) clearly noted that long-term low-dose electromagnetic radiation exposure can lead to central nervous system dysfunction (Van, 2000; Wijngaarden, 2000). EMF exposure can cause neurobehavioral disorders, including circadian imbalance, headache, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Do electric blankets emit EMF when turned off? ›

Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper, who originally discovered that magnetic fields were linked to childhood leukemia. Similar health effects have been noted with users of many electric blankets, and waterbed heaters will emit EMFs even when turned off. The devices must be unplugged to delete the EMF exposure.

How does EMF affect blood? ›

These changes were more pronounced among workers exposed to high intensities of radiofrequency EMF. Conclusions: Occupational exposure to radiofrequency EMF can result in changes of the diurnal rhythms of blood pressure and heart rate with lowering of their amplitudes and a shift of the acrophase.

How do you block electromagnetic waves? ›

Typical materials used for electromagnetic shielding include sheet metal, metal screen, and metal foam. Common sheet metals for shielding include copper, brass, nickel, silver, steel, and tin.

How far away should your phone be when you sleep? ›

Keep your cell phone at least 3 feet away from your bed to limit radio frequency exposure. Turn your cell phone off before you go to bed (if you don't rely on your phone's alarm clock) Turn your phone on Airplane Mode.

What devices put off EMF? ›

This non-ionizing radiation field is emitted from wireless devices, like cell phones, smart meters, tablets, and laptop computers. It's also generated by radio and television signals, radar, satellite stations, and MRI machines.

How far should you keep your cell phone from your body? ›

Keeping your cellphone 10 inches away from your body, as compared to one-tenth of an inch, results in a 10,000-fold reduction in exposure. So, keep your phone away from your head and body. Store your phone in a purse or backpack. If you have to put it in your pocket, put it on airplane mode.

Does EMF cause fatigue? ›

Some symptoms that have been linked to EMF sensitivity include foggy brain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, infertility and anxiety. While EMF may not be the only cause for these issues, it is important to reduce exposure where possible.

Does EMF affect melatonin? ›

According to this view, EMF exposure affects the pineal gland, resulting in a suppression of melatonin production. Melatonin has been shown to have anticarcinogenic (22) and free radical scavenging properties (24, 25), the reduction of which may lead to increased cancer risk.

Does brain emit EMF? ›

Brain energy is associated commonly with electrochemical type of energy. This energy is displayed in the form of electromagnetic waves or better known as brainwaves.

Is it okay to sleep near WiFi router? ›

Results: Results showed no statistically significant acute effects of a whole-night Wi-Fi exposure on subjective sleep parameters as well as on parameters characterizing the macrostructure of sleep.

How far should you sit from a WiFi router? ›

While EMF emissions from different routers vary, for most home WiFi routers, a distance of 40 feet (ideally, or 10 feet at a minimum) will help your body and shouldn't impact your WiFi connection too much.

Should I turn off WiFi at night? ›

"Switching off your router overnight can affect automatic software updates and optimisations which in turn can impact the overall performance, speed and stability of your Broadband. "Other connected devices in the home that are connected to your router will also be disrupted by the delayed updates.

Can EMF cause inflammation? ›

EMFs can promote inflammatory state, increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and TNF-α [25, 53, 54].

Does EMF cause high blood pressure? ›

Braune et al.46 reported that mobile phones caused a rise of blood pressure of 5-10 mmHg each time of exposure. Li et al. found that blood pressure in rats was increased through hours after exposure to mobile phone EMF.

What frequency is harmful to humans? ›

In addition to decibel levels, harmful sound frequencies can also be damaging to human hearing. Low frequencies (under 20 Hz) and high frequencies (above 20,000 Hz) that humans cannot perceive can also affect the ear and have adverse effects on our health.

Can EMF cause leukemia? ›

Some people worry about EMF exposure and cancer. Some studies have found a link between EMF exposure and a higher risk of childhood leukemia, but other studies have not. Other studies have not found proof that EMF exposure causes other childhood cancers. Studies in adults did not prove that EMF exposure causes cancer.

What foods reduce radiation? ›

Focus on nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins. Avoid saturated fats, sugar, salt, and alcohol. Change your eating habits and times. Eat smaller meals more frequently.

Does vitamin C interfere with radiation? ›

Avoid vitamin C if you're on radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Vitamin C can interfere with these treatments and decrease their effects. Talk to your healthcare provider if you're taking acetaminophen (paracetamol®).

Can your body recover from radiation? ›

Healthy cells that are damaged during radiation treatment usually recover within a few months after treatment is over. But sometimes people may have side effects that do not improve. Other side effects may show up months or years after radiation therapy is over.

What is EMF in simple words? ›

Electromotive force (EMF) is equal to the terminal potential difference when no current flows. EMF and terminal potential difference (V) are both measured in volts, however they are not the same thing. EMF (ϵ) is the amount of energy (E) provided by the battery to each coulomb of charge (Q) passing through.

What is EMF in real life? ›

Exposure to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (EMF), if they are strong enough, can lead to short term health effects. Exposure to low frequency fields that are strong enough can lead to dizziness, seeing light flashes and feeling tingling or pain through stimulation of nerves.

Who should not use an electric blanket? ›

One of the potential risks of using electric blankets is inadvertently overheating the body. Electric bedding should never be used for an infant or someone who is immobile. Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, can result in neuropathy, which arises from damage to the peripheral nerves.

What should you not do with an electric blanket? ›

Never use electric blankets on sofa beds, pullout beds or mechanically adjustable beds as the heater or control wires could become pinched or frayed. When you're done using the blanket, turn it off and unplug it. Store it right. Store the electric blanket by rolling, not folding, it.

Does EMF change DNA? ›

The results showed a significant increase in DNA strand breaks in the cells exposed to extremely low-frequency EMF. At the same time, the researchers reported that the exposure to radiofrequency EMF led to significant increase of oxidative DNA base damage (SAR 4 W/kg).

Does aluminum foil block magnetic fields? ›

At frequencies from 30 to 100 MHz, aluminum foil provides at least 85 dB of shielding effectiveness. Unfortunately, aluminum foil is extremely inadequate against low frequency magnetic fields, where thick steel or highly permeable ferrite material provides more adequate shielding.

What material can block a magnetic field? ›

Any ferromagnetic metal. That is any metal containing iron, nickel or cobalt. Many steels are ferromagnetic metals and will work for redirecting magnetic shields. Steel is the most commonly used metal because it is cost-effective and widely available, however, some stainless steels are not ferromagnetic.

What absorbs EMF? ›

Cactus. In a list of the best plants that can absorb radiation, cactus emerged as one of the best in absorbing EMF radiation. For most plants to be effective in absorbing radiation, it must be physically situated between you and the device that is emitting radiation.

Can EMF cause mental illness? ›

EMF regulation (2016) clearly noted that long-term low-dose electromagnetic radiation exposure can lead to central nervous system dysfunction (Van, 2000; Wijngaarden, 2000). EMF exposure can cause neurobehavioral disorders, including circadian imbalance, headache, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

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