By Dr. Nina Radcliff
Just about everyone reading this would agree that mobile phones continue to greatly impact our lives everyday – we connect easily with family, friends and business associates; gain insightful information; search new places and track key data – just to mention a very few ways. I love the technology, but I also know that mobile phones are impacting our health everyday – and well, not always in a good way. So where is all that mobile phone information and connection leading us with respect to our health? It’s convoluted.
Current research reports how mobile phones are impacting our mental and physical health, neurological development and personal relationships, not to mention safety on our roads and sidewalks. Let’s start with some questions —
- When was the last time you cleaned your mobile phone?
- Have you noticed some finger cramping or sore hand muscles when scrolling or texting?
- Experiencing blurred vision? Eyestrain? Neck aches?
- Have you ever held a mobile phone while driving? Have you ever attempted to read or send a message? Even look at it when operating a vehicle?
- Ever awakened by a news alert or incoming email?
- Have you noticed people at a restaurant, an event, standing in line connecting to their phones…many times?
Here is what you need to be aware of in order to make wise decisions and minimize harms that this piece of technology may pose.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Unhealthy Side Effects of Mobile Phone
Petri dish: According to the British watchdog group called “Which?”, mobile phones (along with keyboards and tablets) carry more bacteria than a public toilet seat! Yet, it would be preposterous to place our face or mouth near one. Studies have shown that in addition to fecal (a.k.a. “poop”) bacteria, our mobile phones may be contaminated with influenza and common cold viruses, as well as Staphylococcus and meningitis bugs. Yuck!
The reason behind this “icky” phenomenon is that germs love warm places and our phones, face, and hands generate heat—making it a perfect storm to breed pestilence. Here are some helpful tips to prevent you from literally coming face-to-face with these germs:
- When using the restroom, leave our phones in our purses, pockets, or desks. There is no need to use them while taking care of “business.”
- After using the restroom, wash your hands appropriately with soap and water
- Clean your phones with specialized anti-bacterial wipes that are non-corrosive and non-streaking. Additionally, use a cotton swab to get the dirt out of the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.
- Consider a mobile phone cover that can be removed to be cleaned
Text Claw: While not an official medical term, this is a phrase more commonly used these days to describe the finger cramping and sore muscles that come from constant scrolling, texting etc. Using your mobile phone too much can cause inflammation in your tendons — exacerbating existing conditions like tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. And just because your thumb seems to be doing all the work doesn’t mean the discomfort is confined to the hand. Many times, repetitive hand motions lead to pain in the wrist and forearm because they are all connected. And without proper treatment, muscles can become fibrotic and scarred, leading to loss of mobility and strength.
And let’s face it – it is virtually impossible to use the features of your mobile phone — texting, browsing Pinterest — without using your hands! Some people have reported relief with regular stretching hand exercises and applying heat or cold to the area. If you are experiencing pain in your hand/wrist/arm and you suspect it could be “text claw” you should talk to your medical professional about the best treatment for you.
Text neck: Similar to Text Claw, this term was coined to describe neck and shoulder pain that we may encounter because of the position we assume while texting, emailing, or surfing the web. Our head weighs a hefty 10 pounds when in the neutral position (ears are over our shoulders). However, for every inch that we tilt our head forward, the pressure on our spine doubles! And if you are reading texts with your chin positioned next to your chest, you are imposing nearly 60 pounds of force on your neck. This can lead to muscle strain and spasms, disc herniation, and pinched nerves, as well as flattening of the natural curve of our neck. Experts recommend that we should be aware of our body and ensure that our feet are flat on the floor, roll our shoulders back and keep our ears directly over them so our head is not tilted forward—all while keeping our phones at eye level.
Sleep disturbances: When it is dark, our body’s melatonin levels increase (melatonin is a hormone that induces sleep). Conversely, light suppresses melatonin production and facilitates waking up in the morning when the sun rises. However, all forms of light, not just sunlight, can have this effect. If we decide to watch television or utilize our laptop, tablet, or mobile phone soon before bedtime, we will impede the natural rise of melatonin and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Additionally, late night beeps and dings, or messages that are stressful or emotional can throw a wicked wrench at a good night of sleep. So when it is time to get our ZZZ”s, make sure to power down our phones.
Motor vehicle deaths and accidents: Texting while driving has been estimated to cause 200,000 collisions a year and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, claimed 3,477 lives in 2015. Sadly, it is unacceptably prevalent in our youth and the leading cause of death amongst teen drivers. For everyone – of all ages –
the answer is to never text or engage with your mobile phone in any way, while driving. Be responsible, as well as a great example, and do not get distracted by your mobile phone. Along with being a good example, it is vital we talk to our kids about it.
Questionable Barrier to Good Communication: While this sounds like an oxymoron, texting has become a primary means for our kids to communicate. A teen sends out an average of 60 text messages a day (I honestly would have guessed it was more). And, text messaging cannot convey tones of voice or gauge reactions. This removes the critical skill of deciphering and contemplating innuendos or body language responses. In some cases, it supports and festers saying whatever comes to our minds…without constraint, without editing, without thinking. Additionally it can wreak havoc on our kid’s grammar and spelling aptitude. Experts recommend that parents should make it a point to talk (in person) to their children and limit mobile phone use, particularly at meal time or where there is an opportunity to connect with the person that is directly in front of you. And too, we all need a friendly reminder–adults have a strong tendency to routinely check and use their phones throughout the day.
Tiny FontVision Syndrome: Staring at the tiny font on your smartphone screen all day can lead to eyestrain, blurred vision, dizziness and dry eyes, which can cause stigmatisms. To avoid these side effects, take a break! Every once in a while, look up from your phone and focus on something else far away. And don’t forget to blink! Increasing the font size of the text on your phone can also help.
Obsession is Unhealthy: Alarmingly, most Americans admit they are addicted to their mobile phones – with 16% saying they put it in their beds to keep tabs, at night. Facts are we get satisfaction from receiving “that email” or “confirmation of a shipment” – and so anyone can find themselves checking, over and over again, waiting for the euphoria to come. I have seen reports by psychoanalysts that at the bottom of mobile (smart) phone addiction, is award-seeking behavior. The smartphone is a low impact way to claim those rewards from the real world. However, it means many of us are just on them too much–to our peril.
The near-universal access to digital technology, at all ages, is transforming us in ways that can have negative effects on physical and mental health, neurological development and personal relationships, not to mention safety on our roads and sidewalks. As with all things in life….healthy boundaries are key. While we can appreciate and thrive from the benefits of our mobile phones—we must also be aware of its potential harms and drawbacks. That way we can harness the good while minimizing the bad – there is power in off!
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.