What is wireless allergy?
KOLKATA: Should you worry about ‘wireless allergies’? Addressed with scepticism by most, the term electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) or wireless allergy or gadget allergy, is ascribed to a range of non-specific symptoms like headache and fatigue apparently due to heavy use of wireless communicating devices, especially those that emit electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
Common sources of this Wi-Fi tsunami include mobile phone signals, Wi-Fi hotspots, Wi-Fi enabled devices like tabs, cellphones, laptops and a plethora of other gadgets.
The controversial issue was recently thrust in the limelight when a French court in a landmark ruling granted disability allowance to a 39-year-old woman who claimed to be experiencing discomfort from alleged EHS. She was forced to live in a countryside barn far away from the Wi-Fi and the internet.
Despite such examples, the legitimacy debate rages on — is it a real or cooked up — fuelled by the absence of hard evidence and conclusive research.
According to WHO, EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link its symptoms to EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure, but it also says, “The symptoms are real and can vary widely in their severity. EHS can be a problem for affected individual.”
“The radio frequency electromagnetic radiation (RFR — a type of electromagnetic radiation) exposure levels have amplified manifold because of the extensive use of mobile phones and other devices,” Neeraj Kumar Tiwari, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering, SRM University, Lucknow, told IANS in an e-mail interview.
“Common symptoms and sensations of EHS are irritation, headache, stammering, hearing loss, dizziness, ringing delusion, disrupted sleep, stress, fatigue and restlessness,” he added.
Further at the genetic level, electromagnetic radiation from mobiles cause damage if their exposure time and level are high, said M Y Khan, Dean, School for Biosciences and Biotechnology, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU), Lucknow, who has extensively dealt with the issue as a scientist.
The situation in India compared to the West is worse. “Because we tend to use cheap mobile sets which do not follow the standard norms about the radiation safety,” Khan, Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology at the varsity, said in an e-mail interview.
Tiwari added that children may be more vulnerable to EMF effects due to their “developing brain, greater absorption of energy in brain and a longer span of exposure over their lifetime”.
But all said and done, the fact is Wi-Fi, mobile phones and the internet are a necessity today, so much so that the number of internet connections in India has swelled to 300 million.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) states EMFs produced by the antennae on mobile towers and mobile phones are at the lower end of the electromagnetic emission spectrum and are ‘non-ionizing radiations’, which means that the energy carried by them is not enough to break the chemical bonds between molecules.
While EHS battles an existential crisis and as teenagers get more hooked to gadgets, Tiwari and Khan suggested ‘green communication’ — an approach to minimise the risks or defects associated with wireless communication systems.
For now, follow simple tips like texting instead of talking, keeping cellphones and gadgets at a distance and not placing cell phones under pillows.