Is the electro-hypersensitivity condition Chuck has on “Better Call Saul” real?

Quick Answer: While the condition of electro-hypersensitivity is something real people have reported suffering, there is no scientific evidence that supports it is physically happening. Likely, it is a psychomatic torment caused by a person believing in the condition.

An incredibly complex organism, the human body relies on a high number of systems that can fail us when even the smallest thing goes wrong. Some malfunctions are so rare and eccentric that they seem nearly impossible, with only a handful of documented cases in the history of mankind. Chuck (Michael McKean) on Better Call Saul (2015-) suffers from one such unusual condition. He describes it as electro-hypersensitivity, a condition slightly less fantastic-sounding than some other real-world maladies but one which strikes us as bizarre in today’s world of computers, technology, and cell phones. Being allergic to electricity is like being allergic to air, and it sounds so unlikely that it’s easy to question the validity of the condition — especially coming from Chuck, a character much disliked by the average Better Call Saul viewer for his condescension and deceit toward his supportive brother Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk). It wouldn’t be out of Chuck’s wheelhouse to fake the whole thing as a means of controlling others.

As it turns out, though, the condition does exist… well, kind of.

The disease is called Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields (IEI-EMF), more commonly known as the simpler Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS). It’s true that real people suffer from the condition, reporting symptoms like crippling headaches, nausea and fatigue if they are in the presence of EMF-generating electronics, like radio, WiFi, and phones. But while these symptoms are believed to be the product of an allergy to electromagnetic waves, the condition is most likely psychomatic in nature. In other words, it’s a problem created in one’s brain, but the belief is so firm that it can cause real physical distress. The word “idiopathic” refers to something for which the true cause is unknown; hence the “attributed” later in the condition’s name. The facts of the condition remain very uncertain.

Chuck’s condition is also similar in some ways to a neuropsychological disorder called Morgellons, a psychosis wherein people believe any sort of parasite or insect infestation is living in their body causing them to be itchy and sick. For Chuck, that infestation is electricity.

Michael McKean as Chuck in Better Call Saul

Humans do display sensitivities to electricity, but we as a race have been washing ourselves in electromagnetic energy for the past half century. Denis Henshaw, Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol, told recombu that there is no study that definitively links electro-mag radiation to any severe human health condition: “[He] pointed us to studies that demonstrate the effects of mobile phone radiation on various organisms. While it looks like there’s a case for EMFs ruining the sex lives of fruit flies and causing ants to evacuate their homes, there’s so far been no study that conclusively proves that BT Home Hubs, iPhone 6s and mobile masts are scrambling our brains.”

Yet there are also reports of people suffering from conditions that sound very similar to Chuck’s who have relocated to remote areas devoid of electromagnetic waves for relief.

Radio Times writes, “Psychologists have conducted a number of tests which state that the condition is entirely psychosomatic, with scenarios in which neither the participant or the researcher know if an electromagnetic field is active proving rather conclusive. Better Call Saul fans may recognize a similar scene in episode five, Jello, where a doctor turns on an electronic device without Chuck knowing, and he doesn’t react.”

On the series, it’s unclear whether or not Jimmy and the rest of Chuck’s associates truly believe his disease is real, but they do understand that, if nothing else, it is real to Chuck. It shapes him and distorts his perspective of the world, and in all likelihood we may discover it plays a role in explaining his non-existence in the chronologically later Breaking Bad (2008-2013).