Last Updated 11 Mar 2020

Dark Tech: The Effect of the Cell Phone on Health

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Today’s technologies are advancing at such an astonishing rate. This can make it difficult for even the most avid “techie” to keep pace. Technology is that wonderful thing that brings comfort and convenience to our lives. But, with that comfort and convenience, there often comes a price; and the technology of the cell phone proves no exception. Arguably, as a communication tool, the cell phone has no equal in how it has changed and affected our lives. Mostly, the effect has been positive in many ways. But, as it is with anything, overuse and abuse has brought out its dark side and the effect of unintended consequences.

One of the unintended consequences of the cell phone is its effect on the health of its users and even the health of those around them. What is the effect of the cell phone on our health? Researchers are examining the health risks associated with cell phone use. This research has focused on traffic accidents, germs, cancer, electromagnetic radiation, and vision health. Traffic Accidents and Cell Phones Cell phone users knowingly, or unknowingly, put themselves and others in potentially hazardous situations by using a cell phone while driving.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focused on cell phone distracted drivers in the United States. According to the study, sixty-nine percent of drivers in the United States, ages 18-64, reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the last thirty days. Additionally, within that same demographic, thirty-one percent of U. S. drivers reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within the 30 days before they were surveyed.

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One must note that these percentages reflect only those drivers that “admitted” to the cell phone activity in question. Activities, such as texting, take the driver’s attention and hands away from driving more frequently and for longer periods than other distractions, making it proportionately more dangerous. Younger, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 may be at a higher risk; they garner the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. The National Safety Council reports that at least 23 percent of all traffic crashes, or at least 1. 3 million crashes, involve cell phone use.

This number can be broken down to an estimated 1. 2 million crashes each year involving drivers using cell phones for conversations and the remaining 100,000 or more additional crashes can be related to drivers who are texting. Analyzing this data shows that cell phone conversations are involved in 12 times as many crashes as texting. This seems to dispel the common myth that a texting driver is the more commonly dangerous cell phone activity. Additionally, and maybe surprisingly to some, it is not just our drivers causing dangerous situations on the roadways.

Many times, pedestrians entranced with their cell phones are just as dangerous as drivers using them. A study published in Injury Prevention in 2012 reflects that one in three pedestrians is distracted by a mobile device while crossing busy streets. This type of distraction leads to accidents that injure both pedestrians and drivers. Germs and Cell Phones Cell phones not only carry important data, but nasty germs also. The greasy, oily residue you usually see on your cell phone after a week, or only a day, of use can often contain more disease-laden germs than those found on a toilet seat.

In 2011, researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine at Queen Mary, University of London found that one in six cell phones is contaminated with some sort of fecal matter. These fecal deposits find their way on to the handsets often because their owners did not wash their hands with soap and water after using the toilet. Some of the phones were found to harbor E. coli bacteria from fecal origin. If this bacterium is transferred into the mouth and ingested into the body, it can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.

In another recent study, students in an Environmental Health course at South University, Columbia sought to find out what germs live on cell phones. After swabbing a sample of 60 phones belonging to students, they found that phones were frequently contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). According to Dr. Robert J. Wolff, PhD, program director of Health Science at South University, “Staph aureus is always dangerous and MRSA forms are worse because they cannot be stopped easily.”

Staph skin infections, including MRSA, can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses. The bacteria might remain confined to the skin, or burrow deeper into the body to cause potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, and surgical wounds. Once established in the body, the infection can infiltrate the bloodstream migrating to the heart valves and lungs tissues where it can wreak havoc on critical physio-biological systems. Radiation and Cell Phone Usage Our cell phones certainly provide an efficient and easy way to communicate with friends, family, and co-workers.

But, multiple research projects have suggested that excessive use of these communication devices may take a long-term toll on the user’s wellbeing. Cell phones use transmitting radio waves through a series of cell towers where radiofrequency (RF) waves create electromagnetic fields. Although cell phones are considered to be low-powered RF transmitters, your handset transmits power when it is on, and therefore it is important to increase your distance from the handset to reduce RF radiation exposure.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggests cell phone users to keep a minimum distance of 20 centimeters from their handset to significantly reduce RF radiation exposure. Adults and especially children can suffer the long-term effects of radiation waves on the brain. According to Dr. Devra Davis, director for environmental oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, "Young children particularly need to be careful. We do not have enough information nor do we have enough time to be sure that cell phones are safe, and there's reason for concern that they may be harmful."

The University of Pittsburgh also warned its faculty and staff to limit their cell phone use due to the possible cancer risks. Vision and Cell Phones For those of you with smart phones, staring at your mobile device can cause problems in your vision later in life. Since screens on mobile devices tend to be smaller than computer screens, you are more likely to squint and strain your eyes while reading messages. According to the Vision Council, more than 70 percent of Americans don't know or are in denial that they are susceptible to digital eye strain.

Additionally, smart phones and other hand-held devices are designed for reading at close range, so users’ eyes must constantly refocus and reposition to process the display’s text and graphics. As much as one-third of U. S. adults reported spending as many as four to six hours a day with their cell phones or related electronic devices. As digital device use increases, so do potential vision problems, including eye strain. Symptoms of this “digital” eye strain may include dry eyes, eye redness or irritation, blurred vision, neck and back pain, as well as headaches.

Conclusion We know that today’s cell phone is the new wonder of modern technology that makes our lives richer and fuller as each new model is introduced. It is technically a microcomputer hidden beneath the cloak of a phone that puts the information super highway in our hip pocket for instant access at any time or place. Oh yeah, we can use it to communicate with our friends, family and co-workers too. So, are cell phones hazardous to our health? Well, if cell phones were handguns, they might be banned, or at the very least restricted by all means of laws and regulation.

If cell phones were automobiles, an owner would probably need to take a safety course to get an operator’s license. To be serious, the cell phone is just a tool. If used in a safe manner and a little common sense, it is no more dangerous than any other tool (Said the three-fingered shop teacher). Unfortunately, not every cell phone user is endowed with common sense. So, until legislation catches up with the technology, the cell phone will have its dark side fraught with danger. Until then, to stay safe, we can clean our hands and cell phones regularly to keep the toilet germs and other assorted pathogens away from our mouths.

We can keep our phone’s possible cancer causing RF at bay by using hands-free devices as much as possible. We can keep our eyesight a little longer by limiting device usage and eye strain. Last, but most importantly, we need to keep our cell phones in our pockets and purses while driving. If we need to make or answer a call, hand it to a passenger, pull over, or wait until we reach our destination to use the device. Just remember, when using your cell phone, think “safety first”; your health depends on it!

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