- Head and neck injuries directly related to distracted cellphone use are on the rise.
- 2,501 people were admitted to hospital emergency departments for head and neck injuries tied to cellphone use between 1998 and 2017.
- The people most at risk for these injuries were between 13 and 29 years old.
- Though many are aware of the dangers that cellphones can pose while driving, experts say not enough is being done to raise awareness of injuries that can happen while people are texting and walking, or playing video games while on the move.
From texting and checking app notifications while walking, to playing games while waiting on the train platform, cellphones are an ever-present part of our daily lives.
However, new research suggests that this constant attention we pay to our phones could be posing serious health hazards.
Researchers analyzed data on 2,501 people who had been admitted to hospital emergency departments for head and neck injuries tied to cellphone use between 1998 and 2017 — a nearly 20-year time frame that encompasses the rise of cellphones, the release of the ubiquitous iPhone and, ultimately, popular augmented reality games like Pokemon Go.
They estimated the national total of phone-related injuries stands at 76,043 people.
The people most at risk for these injuries were between 13 and 29 years old.
Around half of the injuries reported resulted from distracted driving, more than 41 percent occurred at home and were minor, while about one-third came from distracted walking.
Injuries to the head were the most common at about 33 percent followed by facial and neck injuries at 32.7 and 12.5 percent, respectively.
Lacerations were the most common type of injury followed by contusions and abrasions and internal organ injuries.
Study author Dr. Boris Paskhover, surgeon and assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Healthline that an “inadequate amount of attention” has been paid to distracted walking and other activities tied to phone use.
While headlines have been generated in the past surrounding phone-related car accidents, less attention has been paid to the seemingly mundane act of reading a text while you walk down the street.
Dr. Baruch Fertel, emergency medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, said it’s hard to give an exact count of the number of patients with phone-related injuries who have ended up in his emergency room in recent years since it’s a figure his hospital doesn’t specifically track.
That being said, anecdotally from his own experience he’s seen an “uptick” in these kinds of injuries in recent years.
“Look around you, at restaurants, in airports everywhere — people are always on their phones. At traffic lights you can see folks checking their phone. I have seen cyclists [doing it too],” Baruch, who wasn’t affiliated with this research, told Healthline.
“There are many activities that require concentration such as using machinery, driving — even crossing the street and trying to avoid distracted drivers,” he said.
This certainly isn’t the only research pointing to the dangers our phone use can pose.
These deaths occurred in a range of instances — including people taking selfies from tall peaks, people clicking selfie shots near the ocean who fall in and are unable to swim, and even taking a picture while in front of an approaching train.
Baruch agreed with Paskhover that this topic of cellphone distractions beyond driving accidents, overall, has largely been deemphasized in media reports.
He suggested that while it might be hard to unglue from the smartphone’s glowing screen, doing so could potentially have something of a positive health domino effect, reducing risk of injury and improving regular interactions with other people as well.
“The key point is less distractions, more focusing,” he added. “As an aside, it could probably help with relationships with others — put down the phone, connect with your spouse, partner, friend. Live in the moment. How many times are we in meetings or other events where everyone is on their phone?”
Beyond avoiding these life-threatening accidents, it could also help your overall physical comfort.
Cellphone use has been known to cause repetitive stress injuries like “selfie elbow” and “texting thumb” too.
Paskhover stressed that his biggest piece of advice is to “be aware of your surroundings and please don’t cross the street while on the phone.”
Fertel also added that while multitasking on your phone might often be a necessity, please try to avoid doing anything else dangerous at the same time like cooking, cutting with a knife, or walking up a flight of stairs.
“I have seen folks pushing a baby carriage while texting and crossing,” he said. “Also, put the phone in the back seat when driving and hook it to Bluetooth so you are not tempted to scroll.”
New research out of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School looked at data on 2,501 people admitted to emergency rooms for head and neck injuries tied to cellphone distractions.
The data came from a two-decade period that spanned the rise in popularity of cellphones, the iPhone, and popular games like Pokemon Go.
The people most at risk for injury were young people under 30, and injuries included lacerations, contusions and abrasions, and internal organ injuries.
Experts say that while it might be hard to put your phone down and quit multitasking, take a smartphone break while crossing the street, driving, or walking up a flight of stairs and be vigilant of your surroundings.