Dr. Deepmala Mazumdar, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief, Vision Science Academy

Vision Science Academy Exclusive

Well! In the past few years, a notorious psychosomatic illness has been popping up on the news. When we say psychosomatic it is a collective complex condition that involves the mind i.e., psyche, and body i.e., soma probably due to external or social forces. (1) During the end of 2016, a bizarre condition started to come into the limelight in Cuba. (2) The condition was coined as ‘Havana syndrome’ since it was first reported in Havana, the capital city of Cuba. The use of the word ‘bizarre or mysterious’ is associated with the condition as the illness was reported by a cluster of diplomats from the US embassy in the country. A wide array of symptoms was reported by the diplomats at the embassy which included sensory, auditory, visual, and cognitive manifestations in various forms. These were medically confirmed symptoms and the MRI revealed ‘nonspecific changes in the white matter’ in some of the patients. Collectively the signs and symptoms reported by the cluster of patients were defined as ‘concussion like symptoms’ without any history or evidence of traumatic brain injury. (3) The most common symptoms reported were ‘dizziness’ followed by difficulty while concentrating, confusion, hearing loss, tinnitus, ear pain, and headache. (4) Among other symptoms, the most common visual symptoms reported were difficulty in reading, photosensitivity, eye strain. (5) Upon testing the most common findings included convergence insufficiency and impaired eye tracking functions. Though the overall findings were ambiguous and inconclusive of any diagnosis.

Coming to the cause of such ‘anomalous health incident’, there are a number of theories put forward by the experts. The most prevailing one is connected to the ‘unknown energy exposure’ in the form of acoustic attacks. (5) While the plausible causal factor is still under scrutiny, an alternative hypothesis was put forward by the researchers at the Dalhousie university towards environmental exposure to neurotoxins specifically insecticides. (6) One suitable justification for that was given as the aggressive use of mass fumigation both indoors and outdoors to mitigate the Zika virus during 2016. (7) The poisoning caused by chronic exposure to the insecticides has been reported to cause an opening for the blood-brain barrier, (8) which in turn causes the symptoms prevalent among the patients with Havana syndrome.

While the syndrome relates to a specific region, if the plausible causal factor of environmental exposure holds true, this raises the concern against the possible awareness on the exposure to insecticides.

Interesting reads: [https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/19/the-mystery-of-the-havana-syndrome]



  1. Helman CG. Psyche, soma, and society: The social construction of psychosomatic disorders. Culture, medicine, and psychiatry. 1985 Mar;9(1):1-26.
  2. Hoffer ME, Levin BE, Snapp H, Buskirk J, Balaban C. Acute findings in an acquired neurosensory dysfunction. Laryngoscope investigative otolaryngology. 2019 Feb;4(1):124-31.
  3. Rubin R. More questions raised by concussion-like symptoms found in US diplomats who served in Havana. Jama. 2018 Mar 20;319(11):1079-81.
  4. Bartholomew RE, Baloh RW. Challenging the diagnosis of ‘Havana Syndrome’as a novel clinical entity. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2020 Jan;113(1):7-11.
  5. Hoffer ME, Levin BE, Snapp H, Buskirk J, Balaban C. Acute findings in an acquired neurosensory dysfunction. Laryngoscope investigative otolaryngology. 2019 Feb;4(1):124-31.
  6. Friedman A, Calkin C, Adams A, Suarez GA, Bardouille T, Hacohen N, Green AL, Gupta RR, Hashmi J, Kamintsky L, Kim JS. Havana syndrome among Canadian diplomats: Brain imaging reveals acquired neurotoxicity. MedRxiv. 2019 Jan 1:19007096.
  7. Reardon S. Mosquito guns and heavy fines: how Cuba kept Zika at bay for so long. Nature News. 2016 Aug 18;536(7616):257.
  8. Bar-Klein G, Lublinsky S, Kamintsky L, Noyman I, Veksler R, Dalipaj H, Senatorov VV, Swissa E, Rosenbach D, Elazary N, Milikovsky DZ. Imaging blood–brain barrier dysfunction as a biomarker for epileptogenesis. Brain. 2017 Jun 1;140(6):1692-705.