As the iPhone 5 hit stores on Sept. 21, North America went bananas over Apple: days-long lines in front of Apple stores, and pre-orders reaching more than 2 million in just two days. This time around, the iPhone 5 boasts a bigger screen, faster network, and a longer battery life, among other things.
Without a doubt, cell phones have dramatically changed the way we live our lives and communicate with others. According to a recent report from the World Bank, about 75 per cent of the world's population now has access to a mobile device. That's more than 6 billion people around the globe.
But when it comes to your health, are the specifications that great? We reviewed the potential health risks of these mobile devices, and it turns out that your handy device may not be as convenient as you think.
Cell Phones and Your Brain:
Major cell phone releases guarantee a debate over technological superiority. And in the health community, the debate over cell phones' link to cancer is re-ignited. In a Clean Technica blog questioning the environmental friendliness of the iPhone 5, commenter vetxcl outright rejected the idea: "Smart phones emit more cancer causing radiation than other phones. This is a smart phone. Since it causes cancer, it is not green. It's that simple folks."
But is it really "that simple?" The cell phone-cancer debate continues on with no conclusion in sight. In May 2011, experts classified cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" in a report to the World Health Organization (WHO). But less than five months later, another set of researchers from the Danish Cancer Society declared that cell phone usage was in fact safe in an online report published in BMJ
More recently, country music superstar Sheryl Crow blamed her brain tumor diagnosis on her frequent cell phone use, but a new report by the Norwegian Expert Committee determined that mobile phones and wireless network pose no health risk.
Confused much? Luckily, a definitive statement may be on the way. In June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it was revisiting its position on mobile phones and radiation.
Reduce the risk: Play it safe and try these smart strategies with your smart phone.
Cell Phones and Emotional Health:
Does the thought of losing your cell phone make you panic? If so, join the club. In June, the digital security company Lookout surveyed 2,097 people, and revealed that 94 per cent feared going without their mobile devices. (73 per cent felt “panicked” when it happened.)
Called “nomophobia,” this separation anxiety indicates a psychological dependence on cell phones because the devices are a convenient way for us to meet a basic human need. “Humans are social animals. We like staying connected,” says Gary Small, MD, professor of psychiatry at UCLA and co-author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. But he’s concerned that cell phones, while essential in our fast-paced lives, can destroy vital skills if they become the only way we communicate. “People are not talking face to face. They’re losing their contact skills.”
These contact skills, such as eye contact, hand gestures, and body language help us develop — and maintain — meaningful social ties. And according to Dr. Small, a sense of creativity and individualism is lost when we try to replace face-to-face time with a quick text: “Ever try sending a joke through email?”
Reduce the risk: Unplug from technology occasionally and turn your phone off.
Cell Phones and Eye Health:
The iPhone 5 is a multi-tasker’s dream. More like a pocket-sized computer, you can listen to music, review documents, and even analyze your facial attractiveness with a finger scroll.
But unlike a computer, this device is smaller than the size of your hand. Those tiny fonts in bright screens can make you squint and strain your eyes, a problem that affects almost 70 per cent of American adults according to a new survey by the Vision Council, an organization that represents manufacturers of optical supplies. This can lead to computer vision syndrome, an eye condition that can lead to dry eyes, difficulty focusing, and even double vision.
Reduce the risk: Taking a break from your device can give your eyes a much needed rest. Try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at an object 20 feet away.
Cell Phones and Chronic Pain:
Two-time U.S. texting champion Austin Wierschke, 17, can type up to six characters per second, but one expert says that those fast fingers may lead to chronic pain later on in life.
"When you're typing on a device with speed and repetition, you may cause pain and inflammation," says Dr. Dean Fishman, chiropractic physician and owner/operator of the Text Neck Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He originally coined the phrase "text neck" to describe the stress and pressure that can be triggered by mobile browsing and sending text messages.
Dr. Fishman regularly sees patients with head, neck, shoulder, elbow, and hand pain – including a 3-year-old girl who visited his office complaining of headaches. After doing an X-ray, he realized that she was spending hours bending her neck forward to play games and practicing her alphabet on her mother's phone. "When you spend long hours in a forward flexed position, it creates postural changes over time," he says. The pressure can lead to arthritis condition of the bones and pressure on the spine.
Reduce the risk: Dr. Fishman conducted a study and found that simply holding the device with proper posture can alleviate pain, and developed this Android App to help you use your phone better.
Cell Phones and Germs:
Your cell phone follows you everywhere — and for 75 per cent of Americans that includes the toilet – but are you keeping it clean? One study found fecal matter on 1-in-6 cell phones in Britain.
That ick factor might make you cringe, but it can get you sick, too. Fecal matter can spread E. coli bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and even kidney failure, which can be deadly. Bacteria can also spread to your skin and trigger breakouts.
Reduce the risk: Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stay healthy and minimize the germs on your phone. It's also important to wipe your phone down at least once a week. A slightly damp (not wet) cloth will do the trick, but you can also purchase Wireless Wipes.