Smartphone Dangers: Could Your Cell Phone Be Bad for Your Health?

February 2020

Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

Smartphones Have Germs

You carry your smartphone with you wherever you go. You have it on you at school, work, and while out shopping and running errands. Some people even carry their smartphones into the bathroom (not recommended)! Smartphones harbor viruses and bacteria like E. coli that can make you sick. Use alcohol-based wipes that are safe to use on electronics and wipe down your smartphone at least once daily to remove dirt, dust, and germs.

Watch Your Neck

Looking down at your smartphone while texting and browsing strains neck muscles and may lead to knots or spasms. It may even lead to nerve pain that radiates to the back, shoulders, or down the arms. Take regular breaks at least every 20 minutes when you are texting or browsing on your smartphone. Maintain good posture and do not hunch forward. Hold your phone higher when you are using it. Proper smartphone ergonomics helps prevent injuries associated with smartphone use, a common public health consideration. Do regular exercise that strengthens and stretches muscles like yoga and Pilates.

Hold the Phone Properly

Any position that involves bending the neck in an awkward position for a prolonged period of time may result in neck pain, including holding your smartphone between your shoulder and ear. If you are in this position for too long, neck pain may result. If you must be in this position while talking on the phone, take frequent breaks and move your neck to avoid getting stiff. If your neck cramps up, rest and put a heating pad on the area to combat tight muscles. Over-the-counter pain relievers can decrease pain and stiffness, too. If the pain lasts for more than a few days, talk to your doctor.

Texting While Driving

It is very dangerous to text while driving. Texting while driving distracts you from what’s happening on the road. It just takes a few seconds of inattention
to lead to an accident. In 2015, nearly 3,500 people were killed and approximately 391,000 people were injured in car accidents involving distracted drivers. Some states have laws that ban cell phone use while driving. Other states require hands-free use of cell phones while driving.

Talking While Driving

It is a misconception that it is safe to talk on the smartphone while driving. It is not safe. Talking on the phone while driving leads to something called cognitive distraction. This type of distraction takes your mind off the road, so even though you may be using a hands-free device that allows for voice-activated dialing and operation, your mind is not on the road. Your eyes and brain perceive what’s around you when you’re talking on a cell phone while driving, but you don’t really see your environment. Talking on a smartphone while driving greatly increases the risk of car accidents. If you must make or take a phone call while driving, pull over on the side of the road.

Beware of Blue Light

Shorter wavelength blue light that is emitted by smartphones, lights, and computer, tablet, and TV screens causes damaging health effects. Exposure to this wavelength of light disrupts circadian rhythms. Exposure to blue light after the sun goes down interferes with sleep. Blue light may contribute to
heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other health conditions. Minimize your exposure to unnecessary light, including smartphone screens, after dark. You will also sleep better if you get a lot of exposure to natural light during the day.

Pay Attention While Walking

Walking while texting or surfing on your smartphone is a danger. You may think it’s okay to compose a quick text while you’re walking out and about, but in that time you could step into a busy intersection, trip and fall, or run into something. Surprisingly, 52% of accidents where people are walking while distracted by smartphone use happen at home. Accidents may include broken bones, head injuries, and muscle and tendon strains. Sit down or stand still
when you need to make a call, send a text,