Canadians claiming to have 'electromagnetic hypersensitivity' feel forced to escape modern life
David Fancy first noticed it while was living in Montreal in the early 2000s.
He got headaches and heard ringing in his ears after he used his cell phone. It got worse when he moved into an apartment near power lines and a cell tower. It got so bad, he had to move out.
He finally discovered an explanation that seemed to make sense: "electromagnetic hypersensitivity," or "EHS" for short.
"Simplest terms, it's an allergy to human-made electromagnetic emissions," says David, a dramatic arts professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
Reported symptoms of EHS include headaches, ear ringing, dizziness, nerve pain, burning skin sensations and heart palpitations. Common triggers are cell phones, WiFi, Bluetooth signals, cell towers, power lines and, in extreme cases, anything electric.
"There was an extensive period where I had to live outside because I was unable to tolerate being indoors," David says. "Simply being in the electrical environment of a household was impossible."
Health Canada's position is that there's no scientific evidence to support electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
Some studies have blamed the "nocebo" effect. That's the flip side of the placebo effect, when the expectation of a negative outcome causes that outcome. In other words, it might be psychological.
Or perhaps the symptoms associated with EHS are caused by something else, and have nothing to do with electromagnetic fields.
But David expresses frustration with the skepticism over EHS.
"Anybody who wholesale disregards the lived experience of thousands or tens of thousands of people, without investigating or trying to understand them, in this day and age, is described as bigoted, prejudiced and discriminatory," he says.
He lived in a woodlot in the Niagara region for three years. At Brock, he was able to continue teaching at a location off campus.
"You go through an initial phase of feeling hunted, frankly, where you don't understand the correlation between the trigger and the experience," he says.
After David was told at a visit to an environmental health clinic in Toronto that EHS might be the culprit for his symptoms, he worked with a team of environmental physicians. He says he is now able to tolerate electromagnetic fields at low levels or short durations. He built himself a house out in the country, specially designed to limit exposure.
He's also been helping others who've had similar experiences, and is hopeful that EHS will become more widely recognized and treated.
"Change takes time. And I'm comfortable with skepticism, as long as the skeptics take time to look at all the research."
This story originally aired on January 14, 2018. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "After Escape".