A whopping 96 percent of American adults own a cellphone of some kind. That translates into more than 240 million Americans — more than 240 million Americans who could be exposing themselves to cellphone-related health hazards.
The latest health concern to arise from cellphone use: injuries to the head, neck, face and eyes. A study published in December 2019 in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found a rise in visits to emergency rooms from January 1998 to December 2017 that were associated with cellphone use. Many of the cases were tied to cellphone distraction, such as walking while texting. Injuries ranged from minor to serious.
The study’s authors say their research suggests “a need for patient education about injury prevention and the dangers of activity while using these devices.”
Head, neck, face and eye injuries linked to cellphones aren’t the only potential dangers connected to using these devices, though. Here are three others to keep an eye on.
Most states have banned texting while driving, and many have also outlawed talking on a cellphone while driving (unless it’s done hands-free). Millions of drivers still engage in these activities, though.
Distracted driving in the form of cellphone use “creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2017 alone, 3,166 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, NHTSA says.
“Cellphone use affects how drivers scan and process information from the roadway,” the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said in January 2019. “Drivers generally take their eyes off the road to dial, send texts and browse the web on a hand-held phone … .”
Especially vulnerable to harm from distracted driving are young, inexperienced drivers, experts say. In 2017, nearly 40 percent of high school students reported texting or emailing while driving in the past month, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute says. That same year, 229 teens (15 to 19 years old) were killed in distraction-involved crashes in the U.S., according to NHTSA.
Here are a few ways you can curb cellphone-related distracted driving:
- Never use a cellphone while driving (unless it’s an emergency).
- Turn off your cellphone when you’re behind the wheel.
- Install an app that blocks cellphone use while driving.
Electronic devices like cellphone emit what’s known as blue light.
This type of light boosts alertness, aids memory and cognitive function, and elevates mood, according to the University of California, Davis. It also regulates our sleep cycles.
However, continued exposure to blue light could damage your retinas and cause vision issues such as age-related macular degeneration, UC Davis says. It also might contribute to eye strain, cataracts and eye cancer.
“Blue-light exposure from screens is small compared to the amount of exposure from the sun,” according to UC Davis. “However, there is concern about the long-term effects of screen exposure especially with excessive screen time and when a screen is too close to the eyes.”
To decrease exposure to blue light from a cellphone, the All About Vision website recommends:
- Installing a blue-light filter.
- Wearing special-purpose computer glasses.
- Getting eyeglasses with glare-reducing antireflective coating.
As explained by the National Cancer Institute, cellphones put off radiofrequency radiation (radio waves), a type of non-ionizing radiation, from their antennas. Parts of the body close to the antennas, such as your head, can absorb this energy.
Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from X-rays, increases the risk of cancer, the institute says. But studies of the potential harm of non-ionizing radiation from cellphones, microwave ovens and other sources offer “no consistent evidence” that non-ionizing radiation raises the risk of cancer in humans, according to the institute.
Still, Cary Subel, co-founder of SafeSleeve, which makes anti-radiation cases for cellphones, laptops and tablets, points out that studies have linked radiation emissions from cellphones and other devices to conditions such as infertility and cancerous tumors.
“Just because you can’t feel, see, smell or hear it does not mean that the emissions from your electronics are harmless,” Subel says.
Some experts maintain, though, that studies warning of the potential for cellphone-related infertility and tumors are unconvincing. Nonetheless, the California Department of Public Health cautioned in 2017 that while “the science is still evolving,” some public health professionals worry about long-term, high-use exposure to the energy emitted by cellphones.
To minimize this exposure, the department suggests:
- Keeping cellphones away from your body.
- Reducing cellphone use when the signal is weak.
- Cutting back on the use of cellphones to stream audio or video, or to download or upload large files.
- Keeping cellphones away from your bed at night.
- Removing headsets when you’re not on a cellphone call.