You feel a hitch in your thumb, a tingle in your elbow, or a dull thrumming behind your eyes.
These symptoms have a lot of possible causes, but maybe it’s time to evaluate the role technology might be playing in your physical ailments.
There can be side effects to our addiction to smartphones, video games, televisions, and computer monitors. These are some of the ways technology can impact our bodies:
1. Texting thumb
People who type extensively on their smartphones may start to feel the stress of gripping their phones and moving their thumbs in a repetitive manner.
Rush University Medical Center classifies two different kinds of thumb ailments as “texting thumb.” One may involve “painful popping or snapping when the thumb bends and straightens” while the other is a form of arthritis in the joint where the thumb connects to the wrist. Treatment may involve cortisone injections, rest or splints. Some extreme cases may call for surgical intervention.
Rush recommends resting your thumbs, using your phone’s voice-to-text feature, stretching your fingers, and considering cutting back on your smartphone usage.
2. Cubital tunnel syndrome
It’s not just thumbs that can feel the strain of technology. Cubital tunnel syndrome can result from applying pressure on the same nerve that triggers your “funny bone.” This pressure can come from propping your elbows on a hard surface, such as when you’re sitting at a table and holding up your phone. Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause symptoms of tingling and numbness in your pinkie and ring fingers along with elbow and forearm soreness.
Rush suggests avoiding positions that require you to flex your elbow for a long period of time, as well as moving away from your computer’s keyboard so you’re not scrunched up as you type.
3. Digital eye strain
You’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours. Maybe your eyes feel dry or you’re getting a headache or your vision looks blurry. You may be suffering from digital eye strain. Optical industry group The Vision Council includes all those symptoms, along with a feeling of eye strain and neck and shoulder pain, under the umbrella of “digital eye strain.”
The Vision Council recommends reducing overhead lighting to minimize screen glare, maintaining a proper viewing distance from your screen, increasing text size if necessary, and following the rule to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.
People who struggle with eye strain issues can also look into getting specialized eyewear to help reduce the problem.
4. Hearing loss
Many people block out the world around them with headphones and earbuds. They may be listening to music on a commute or drowning out the sounds of a coffee shop. The trick is in dialing in a proper volume that won’t cause hearing problems. “If you can hear the sound being delivered into a person’s ear via headphones or earphones, it indicates the sound is too loud and over an extended period can lead to permanent hearing loss,” says the Stony Brook School of Medicine. Keep an eye (and an ear) on the volume levels for music or videos when you’re wearing headphones.
5. Phone separation anxiety
Do you feel panicky if you forget your smartphone? You’re not alone. Researchers from the University of Missouri tested a group of iPhone users and found their blood pressure and feelings of anxiety increased when they were unable to answer their ringing phones while attempting to solve simple word-search puzzles.
Researchers are still looking into phone separation anxiety, but this Missouri study should be enough to encourage you to question your reliance on your smartphone and how it makes you feel when it’s not in reach.
6. Poor sleep
You’re tossing and turning. Again. While there are many possible causes of sleep problems, you might want to take a closer look at your technology habits before bed. Viewing bright screens in the evening can mess with your body clock and make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
Some technology makers are working on ways to reduce blue light exposure when you use their gadgets at night. Apple’s Night Shift feature is a good example of this. If you need to use a device with a screen at night, then try to use one with a Night Shift-style feature. You can also commit to putting aside your smartphone, tablet, or computer after a certain time of night and see if it improves your sleep quality.
7. Sedentary lifestyle
A lot of our modern gadgets invite us to just sit down and stay there, whether it’s while using your computer at work, lounging in your living room playing video games, or binging the latest Netflix hit show. MedlinePlus warns of the possible side effects of a sedentary life, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, and heart disease.
Medline Plus recommends getting up from your chair and moving around at least once an hour, standing while talking on the phone, taking the stairs, working out while watching TV, and developing an exercise routine. Some people have also turned to standing desks as a way to stay more active while using a computer at work.
8. Texting and driving
Here’s a sobering number. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about nine people are killed and over 1,000 injured in crashes involving distracted drivers each day in the United States. Texting while driving is a big culprit in these accidents. While prevention in the form of not texting and driving seems simple, it can be a hard issue to tackle. Here are some ways you can avoid the temptation to text while you drive.
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Your smartphone could be a lifesaver if you have the right personal safety app installed.