There is no doubt that the Information Age has provided both society as a whole and those suffering from environmental illnesses with countless benefits. Over recent years however there has been a huge shift in the way we access the information available online, with cellular and wireless devices such as the iPhone and iPad (and smartphone and tablet alternatives) replacing the traditional desktop or laptop computer as the preferred means of getting online for many.
The benefits of such devices are easy to see. For example, cell phones are generally always switched on and ready to use and tablet computers can be switched on in an instant; compare this to desktop and laptop computers which can take an age to start up! Then there is the portability of such small and light devices. Many people suffering from environmental illnesses from chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia to multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and mold-related illness need to spend a lot of time in bed resting (and in the most unfortunate severe cases may be bed-bound). The above benefits of the likes of an iPhone or iPad make it easy to rest up in bed while still having easy, hassle-free access to the internet. Accessing medical information and support groups from the relative comfort of bed can be an important lifeline for many.
Of course, laptop computers can also be used in bed but they are both bulkier and heavier which can be a significant problem when pain and lack of mobility are major symptoms. Smartphones and tablets are small and light and can generally be held in one hand while still allowing EI sufferers to access their favorite websites, forums and support groups (and of course playing Angry Birds if you need cheering up!).
Environmental illness patients are no strangers to downsides however - I won't go into examples here as I fear I would get easily sidetracked and bore you all with my 20+ years of experiences - so back to the subject at hand. Unfortunately the benefits of iPhones, iPads and their clones have their share of downsides. First of all environmental illnesses being serious and disabling conditions means that those affected are often forced to either cut their work hours or have to give up their jobs entirely. Electronic gadgets are rarely cheap and this may well put smartphones ans tablet computers out of financial reach for many. Almost certainly the biggest drawback to such devices however, ironically, stems from their major benefit - portability. To achieve this they must rely on wireless technologies - either 3G/4G cellular/mobile networks or Wi-Fi.
A large percentage of those affected by environmental illness find they are adversely affected by wireless signals, with exposure either triggering or exacerbating a wide range of symptoms. At its most extreme, this kind of reaction is known as electrical sensitivity (ES) or electrical hypersensitivity (EHS) and can be an extremely debilitating illness in its own right (learn more here).
I personally count myself lucky in this area. I have never experienced symptoms I can attribute directly to wireless technology despite suffering from CFS/ME, and in the past MCS. I certainly don't notice an obvious reaction or worsening of symptoms when using wireless devices and have not noticed an improvement when I have experimented with avoiding wireless sources and electronics in general. I know many of you reading this will have had different experiences however.
I guess the pros and cons of the likes of the iPhone and iPad, as is often the case with environmental illness sufferers, comes down to personal circumstances and reactions. For many they may provide easy access to social lifelines and information online, while for others they only cause further suffering.
It would be great to read your thoughts and experiences on this issue. Do you feel smartphones and tablet computers are a positive or a negative in your life? Do you react to using such devices but feel the benefits of internet access and communication with fellow sufferers online outweigh this? Please do use the comments box below to discuss...
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.