This is how your cell phone is affecting your health

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If you're reading this on your phone, take a moment to look at those around you. Odds are, they're on their phones too. Do you blame them? Over the past decade or so, smartphones and cell phones have become an extended part of the self. We use them to call our moms, take pictures, listen to music, check the weather and even find love. We don't even need proper alarm clocks anymore. Your phone will wake you up. Taking a road trip? Your phone will show you the way.

These magical handheld devices make life so much easier. Back in the day questions went unanswered whereas now, a simple search on Google from your phone solves any query. Cell phones are a luxury and some features can even help save lives - but all that glitters is not gold. In addition to invaluable features, your cell phone might lead to adverse effects on your health. Here's how.

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It could interfere with a pacemaker

Radiofrequency energy can interact with some electronic devices such as a pacemaker, according to the FDA. This is called electromagnetic interference, and if it were to occur, it could stop your pacemaker from delivering the pulses needed to stimulate your heart's rhythm. It could also cause the pacemaker to deliver unregulated pulses or ignore the heart's natural rhythm and deliver pulses at a different rate. Because this is a known issue, the FDA helped develop detailed testing sponsored by the Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation that helps manufacturers make sure that pacemakers and defibrillators are safe from electromagnetic interference.

Based on what the FDA knows now, it's unlikely that cell phones pose a serious health risk to people with cardiac hardware, but there are some precautions you can take it you're concerned. The first is to hold your phone to the ear opposite the side of the body where the pacemaker is. This adds a little extra distance between the implant and the phone. The second is to avoid placing your phone next to pacemaker, such as in a shirt or jacket pocket.

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It could cripple critical thinking

A study from 2017 found that the mere presence of your cell phone damages cognitive capacity even if the device is on silent (no ringing or vibrations). For the experiment, participants were instructed to leave their mobile devices in one of three places: in another room, in their pocket or in a bag or face down on their desk. People who left their phones in another room performed better than those with phones on their desks. People who left their phones in either a pocket or bag did not perform significantly worse or better than the other groups.

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It could cause a car accident

Cell phones are a distraction to people behind the wheel, which is why the majority of states ban drivers from using them. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, it's unlawful to use a handheld phone in 20 states, and in all but two states (Missouri and Montana), there's a complete ban on texting. In 38 states, you can't be on the phone at all, even if you're using a hands-free attachment, if you're a novice driver. These rules also apply to Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Even though the laws stand, some people choose to use their phones while driving anyway. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, 2.9% of drivers drove while using a handheld cell phone in 2017, down from 3.3% the year prior. Also in 2017, 3,166 people died as a result of distracted driving. That's about 9% of all fatal crashes recorded that year.

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It could be a traffic hazard

In May 2019, the New York State Senate proposed a new bill that would prohibit pedestrians in New York City from using their phones while crossing the street. If caught, the offender would have to pay a fine - $25 to $50 on the first offense and up to $250 per offense after that.

"It has been proven that distraction from texting while walking can cause pedestrians to cross roads very unsafely. Not only can trips and falls occur, but even getting hit is more than just a possibility," the bill states.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, 5,987 pedestrians died in 2017 and, while there's no definitive link between these fatalities and smartphone use, the organization says that there is a correlation between the two.

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It could affect sleep

Research shows that people who spend time on their phones before bed have a harder time falling asleep than those who forgo screen time. They also have difficulty staying asleep, and the quality of sleep decreases. Even though screens could negatively impact a good night's snooze, poor sleep might lead to increased smartphone usage. It's easy to grab your cell from the nightstand to start scrolling when you're restless, but this ultimately keeps you from reaching your goal of catching enough zzz's.

Some of this could be attributed to artificial light (especially blue light emitted from phone screens, TVs and tablets), which can decrease melatonin production, according to Psychology Today. Melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the brain's pea-sized pineal gland. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this typically happens around 9 p.m., making you sleepy, and melatonin levels stay elevated for approximately 12 hours before falling to undetectable levels, allowing you to feel awake. Looking at a screen stimulates your brain, making it harder for you to fall asleep at night, and groggier in the morning when you're trying to wake up.

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It could cause 'text neck'

The term "text neck" was coined by chiropractic physician Dean L. Fishman, who defines it as an "overuse syndrome involving the head, neck and shoulders, usually resulting from excessive strain on the spine from looking in a forward and downward position at any hand held mobile device."

For every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds. This can cause headaches, neck pain and shoulder and arm pain. Long-term effects include muscle strain, disc herniations, early arthritis and pinched nerves. Text neck could even result in a 30% loss in lung capacity, creating shortness of breath, which could lead to heart and vascular disease.

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It could cause 'smartphone thumb'

When people say "smartphone thumb," they might be describing trigger thumb, a medical condition caused by forceful hand activities like gripping a phone and texting. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, flexor tendons are long cord-like structures that attach the forearm muscles to the finger bones. Each flexor tendon passes through a tunnel in the palm and fingers that allows everything to glide smoothly as the finger bends and straightens.

In trigger thumb (or trigger finger), the A1 pulley becomes inflamed or thickened, making it harder for the flexor tendon to glide through as the finger bends. As time progresses, the flexor tendon might also become inflamed and develop a small nodule, making it increasingly difficult to pass through the A1 pulley. When it finally does, it creates a painful catching and popping sensation. In severe cases, the finger will actually lock in the bent position. Treatment typically includes rest, splinting, stretching exercises, medication and cortisone shots. If the finger does not get better, surgery is an option.

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It could heighten anxiety

Nomophobia was coined by the U.K. Post Office, which commissioned YouGov to look at anxieties in mobile phone users. The research organization found that approximately 53% of people with cell phones in Britain are anxious when they lose their phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage. Just over half of participants claimed that their anxieties mainly centered around not being able to connect with their "dear and near one." On measuring the exact intensity of anxiety, the level was said to be on-par with those of "wedding day jitters."

Though several types of anxiety disorders exist, common symptoms include feeling nervous, restless or tense, having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom, an increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, weakness, trouble concentrating on anything other than your worries, sleeplessness and gastrointestinal problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Another possible explainer for cell phone-induced anxiety is the Extended Self Theory, in which an individual's personal possessions become an extension of one's self. Because people almost always have their phones on them, it could feel as if they've lost a part of themselves if they lose their phones.

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It could cause depression

A 2018 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that the correlation between smartphone addiction and depression is "alarming." Researchers said that reasonable usage of mobile phones is advised particularly among younger adults and less educated users, who could be at higher risk of developing symptoms of depression.

Another study by researcher Jean Twenge found that young people who spend five or more hours per day on their phones are 71% more likely to have depressive episodes and at least one risk factor for suicide regardless of the specific content they consume. Teens who spent more time playing sports, doing homework and socializing with friends face-to-face showed a lower risk for depression and suicide.

According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that affects how you feel, think and behave, which can lead to further emotional and physical problems. Some symptoms include sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, irritability, insomnia or sleeping too much, reduced or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, anxiety, guilt and more. If you think your loved one is struggling with these symptoms, here's how to help them.

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It could cause symptoms of OCD

According to the Mayo Clinic, obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, features a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that influence you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that interfere with daily activities, causing significant stress. Ignoring these impulses or trying to get rid of them, on the other hand, could also increase stress.

In "Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions", author Sharon Begley says that smartphone addiction might lead to symptoms of OCD. You might feel the need to drop everything you're doing to reply to texts, emails and tweets, or check in on news and other notifications so that you don't miss out on anything. This could be when you're on the clock, driving, mid-conversation, at dinner, etc. - all situations in which it's inappropriate or even dangerous for you to be on your phone. The intense need to stay connected 24/7 could damage relationships, decrease productivity at work and cause problems at home.

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It could cause symptoms of ADHD

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that frequent use of digital media - checking social platforms, texting, watching videos, commenting on other people's posts, reading blogs, etc. - can increase the risk of having symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Harvard Medical School's Dr. Claire McCarthy notes that genetic and environmental factors including parenting could have played a role in these results and that just because someone has symptoms of ADHD doesn't mean they necessarily have ADHD.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of ADHD include impulsiveness, disorganization, poor time management skills, problems focusing, trouble multitasking, restlessness, frustration, mood swings and trouble coping with stress.

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It could interfere with proper socialization

In an interview with University of California, Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine, MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle said that in her research, 89% of Americans took out their phones during their last social interactions and 82% said it weakened the conversation they were in. Not only does it decrease the quality of what you're talking about, but it also lessens the empathetic connection that people feel toward one another.

There are also people who use their cell phones and social media as a substitute for face-to-face conversation - but proper socialization is necessary to human health. Psychologist Susan Pinker told Medical News Today that face-to-face contact releases a cascade of neurotransmitters that protect you "like a vaccine." Just shaking hands with someone is enough to release oxytocin, which is associated with empathy, trust and relationship building, and therefore lowers your stress levels. Proper socialization also increases dopamine production, Pinker said, which gives you a natural, happy high, "like a naturally produced morphine."

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It could give you a virus

Cell phones are dirty, and your own hand is to blame. According to a survey by Deloitte, Americans touch their phones approximately 52 times per day, affording pathogens the opportunity to jump ship from your fingers to your screen. In fact, a 2012 study by the University of Arizona found that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats, and according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one in every six smartphones carries fecal matter.

Additional research has found an array of germs on screens from Streptococcus, antibiotic-resistant MRSA, E. coli and more. Just having these on your phone won't make you sick, but if you have strep throat or the flu and cough on your phone before passing it to a friend, a virus could very well spread, Susan Whittier, director of clinical microbiology at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center, told Time. To clean yours, use disinfectant wipes or a microfiber cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol and water. Your cell phone isn't the only germ-infested item in your life though. From the salt and pepper shakers to your puppy's pet bowls, these are the dirtiest places in your home.

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