The most important thing about health I've discovered as I grow older is simple: Everyone's body is different. What irritates one person every which way has zero impact on another. Medications, particularly psychotropic ones, work well to cure one man's depression while another is driven to harm himself. Some people thrive in urban environments, and it stresses others out to spend time in the country.
Since my grandmother had Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) from an overexposure to weedkiller, (a health problem that many doctors didn't believe existed during the '80s) I'm probably more likely than most to believe people when they tell me something that most people think is benign has made them ill. But if you've been following any of the recent spate of medical shows set in past eras (Cinemax's "The Knick," BBC's "London Hospital"), you know that many health issues thought nonexistent (especially health problems particular to women) in 1900 or 1920 are well known now. I believe we still have more to learn.
So when someone says they are "allergic to technology," it might sound crazy, but there might be some truth to what they are experiencing. Some folks are the proverbial canary in the coal mine for all of us.
Cellphone allergies have long been known as a kind of contact dermatitis, or skin rash (the British Medical Association calls it Mobile Phone Dermatitis), due to the nickel that's used to make most cellphones. Nickel allergies are pretty common, and so if someone spends a lot of time talking on their phone, they might see red bumps on their cheek or neck; if they text, they might break out on their fingers instead.
Similarly, researchers recently published a paper in the journal Pediatrics that points to iPad use as the cause of contact dermatitis in children.
What can you do if you suspect an allergy to your phone? You can get a simple nickel test kit to determine if that could be the problem. You can also look for specialized types of phones, or cover phone or tablet exteriors with protective covers (in this case protecting you as well as the device). Lionel Bercovitch, MD, of Brown's Warren Alpert Medical School wrote in the Canadian Medical Journal: "Cellphones intended for rugged use ... often have rubber coating and no surface nickel. Those with more fashionable designs often have metallic accents and are more likely to contain free nickel in their casings."
Besides nickel, some people (like Phil, in the video above) say they are made ill by electromagnetic waves; this issue is called Electrosensitivity Syndrome. Sufferers say they get headaches (the most common complaint), nausea and skin itching or rashes when they are exposed to WiFi and cellphone signals. While some studies have shown that these signals don't affect people who call themselves sensitive (or people who do not), there are plenty of people who keep electronics out of their bedrooms, out of their homes, and even a very few who choose to live in isolated areas to keep away from the low-level radiation given off by most of our gadgets.
Some places take these concerns seriously. In Europe, where there is a greater acceptance of the possibility of unknowns causing health issues, it is common practice for hotels to keep WiFi out of sleeping quarters, for example. As a believer in the precautionary principle, I keep electronics out of my bedroom (it's not hard to do so and I'm always going to be on the "better safe than sorry" team).
Only time will tell if electrosensitivity is a legit complaint; but remember, there were anecdotal stories that redheads were more sensitive to pain, and needed more anesthesia for years (with some doctors stating that a connection between hair color and pain sensitivity was crazy), until it was proven to be true.
So let's listen to our bodies and keep our minds open. If something makes you feel crummy, it's probably best to avoid it.
Related on MNN: