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Is the internet affecting our health?

Margoti began to suffer symptoms after her wi-fi was upgraded.
Margoti began to suffer symptoms after her wi-fi was upgraded. / SUR
  • Fast, powerful wi-fi is almost everywhere we go nowadays but some people believe it is making them ill. Many doctors are sceptical but the WHO says electromagnetic-hypersensitivity exists and Sweden recognises it as a disability

Margoti Blanco Ayala returned home from a short trip to Madrid and sat down to check her emails. Within a very short time she started to feel ill and, thinking she had perhaps picked up a virus, went to bed until she felt better.

Once she had recovered, a couple of days later, she sat at her desk to use her computer again, and the same thing happened. Margoti, who lives in Jimena de la Frontera, then discovered that while she had been away her husband Guy had upgraded their wi-fi Internet to 4G.

“I was always fine when I used the internet in the house before. Nothing ever happened, but all of a sudden I started feeling very ill whenever I used the computer at home,” she says. “So we wondered if it could be anything to do with the new 4G connection.”

The next time Margoti tried to use the internet at home she was so ill that she was rushed to hospital, where she stayed for a week and underwent a barrage of tests. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong, and when she was well enough to be released they suggested that she consult a psychiatrist.

“I was willing to do that,” she says. “It was possible that the cause was psychological, because they couldn't find any other reason. I just wanted to sort the problem out.”

But then Guy and Margoti, who run a successful estate agency, visited a house which was about to come onto the market, and Margoti went upstairs to take photos. “Almost immediately, the symptoms started,” she says. “I went back downstairs and asked if they had a 4G internet router switched on up there, and they had. I hadn't known that, so it made me think I was onto something and the problem isn't psychological.” She left the property quickly, but still felt so ill that it took her several hours to recover.

The symptoms Margoti suffers are not minor. Guy says he thought she was having a stroke, on the occasions when she was taken ill at home. “Her face seemed to change shape,” he says. “She couldn't move and was struggling to speak. Her voice became deeper than usual, and her speech was slow and slurred.” Margoti says it makes her feel paralysed and heavy-limbed, her mind becomes foggy and she is completely unable to concentrate on anything. Although she had never experienced anything this severe before, she says she had never really liked using the internet on her mobile phone because it seemed to sap her energy, gave her a sensation of tightness in her head and sometimes made her feel nauseous.

Hypersensitivity

In Margoti's case, as all the medical tests proved negative, most doctors were sceptical of her belief that she is responding physically to being 'blasted' by electromagnetic frequencies. However, there is a condition called electromagnetic-hypersensitivity (EHS), which is recognised by the World Health Organisation. For several years now its website has included information about the condition, and it says that “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).”

The WHO says studies have shown that only a few individuals per million in a population show signs of EHS, although figures from self-help groups claim the number is much higher. Studies also seem to indicate that the problem is worse in some countries than others: the reported incidence of EHS has been higher in Sweden, Germany, and Denmark than in the UK, Austria, and France. In fact, Sweden was the first country to recognise electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a condition of functional impairment, or disability.

One study which concluded definitively that EHS does exist was carried out in 2011 at Louisiana State University, where researchers tested a woman who claimed to have EHS by exposing her without her knowledge to low-level pulsed electromagnet fields. Every time without fail, in less than two minutes she developed physical symptoms including headache, twitching muscles, irregular heartbeat and others.

Affecting lives

The problem is, of course, that wi-fi and internet are everywhere now, because it is a service that people expect. Margoti says her life is being badly affected by whatever is causing her symptoms: she has to avoid using the internet and regularly has to leave places because she starts feeling ill.

The couple changed their home wi-fi to a line-of-sight system in the hope that this would sort out the problem, but it involved a more powerful router (300 mbp instead of the previous 140) and Margoti suffered the same symptoms. She therefore believes she may be extremely susceptible to any type of powerful internet system. She has tried using a device to block the effects, but so far with little success. “They say it might not work straight away, because it takes people time to detox from the unnatural radiation,” she says.

While hoping desperately to find a way of overcoming this problem, Margoti would also be interested in hearing whether other people have experienced anything similar, or believe they might be affected. She would also be grateful to hear from any doctors who have come across similar cases, or technical experts who may have information which could prove useful.