In a nutshell: Smartphones are now powerful computers in our pockets, but as we become increasingly glued to their screens, the number of physical injuries they cause has skyrocketed.
In a new study published by the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, it’s revealed that injuries to the face, eyes, nose, ears and head cause by a phone—either directly, such as through exploding batteries, or indirectly, which includes falling when distracted—have risen “steeply” over the last 20 years.
People aged between 13 and 29 suffered most injuries, which were mostly due to distracted driving, walking, and texting. The most common injury was cuts to the face, followed by contusions, abrasions, and internal organ injuries.
“Nobody in their right mind would ever read a book while they are walking, why would they read an entire article on the phone while they are walking?” said Boris Paskhover, chief of facial plastics and reconstructive surgery at Rutgers New Jersey medical school and co-author of the study. But he added: “Everyone does it, everyone. I do it.”
Injuries caused by phones were found to be rare up until 2007—the year that the first iPhone was released. "Although mobile telephones were gaining popularity prior to that time point," the authors wrote, "their functions were limited and they were therefore less likely to be major distractions when compared to modern-day smartphones."
The report is based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) database, which holds emergency department information gathered from around 100 US hospitals. Between 1998 and 2017, over 2,500 patients had head and neck injuries related to the use of mobile phones. That equates to about 76,000 cases across the whole of the US.
Paskhover believes the number of indirect phone injuries are underestimated, either because people didn’t attend the emergency room or were too embarrassed to report how the accidents happened.
Several countries are trying to address the problem of distracted phone users wandering into traffic. Germany, Australia, and Holland have all experimented with embedding traffic lights into the sidewalk, allowing smartphone addicts to cross a road without having to look up—in theory.
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