Should you worry about 'wireless? Addressed with skepticism by most, the term electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), also known as 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 hot spots and Wi-Fi enabled devices like tabs, mobile phones, 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 thing or cooked up - fueled 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 certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual."

Experts in India who have been studying such emerging problems (for example, the link between EHS and mobile phone usage) say that with the introduction and expansion of wireless communication technologies, complaints related to mobile phones, base stations and gadgets have become more prominent.

"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 this correspondent on Sunday.

"Very 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.

In fact, he said, the situation in India compared to the West is worse. "Because we tend to use cheap mobile sets made by companies 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. The electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Tiwari added that children may be more vulnerable than adults to EMF effects due to their "developing brain, greater absorption of energy in brain and a longer span of exposure over their lifetime". As for now, following simple tips like texting instead of talking, keeping mobile phones and gadgets at a distance and not placing the phones under the pillows is the way to go.

By Sahana Ghosh

 

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