by Julie Kosin, WTH writer
(Courtesy of umn.edu)
Check out this feature and other great stories in the newest issue of What the Health magazine, dropping today! Look for it in all the dining halls, dorms, fitness centers and academic buildings.
WTH examines the effects of laptops and cellphones on your health
When Alex Ptachick wakes up in the morning, she immediately checks her cell phone. Throughout the day, the newspaper and online journalism major sends and receives about 1,500 text messages. She spends up to seven hours a day on her laptop taking notes in class, Facebook chatting, Skypeing with her boyfriend, and watching TV. Between classes, she gets the latest news on her iPad and listens to music on her iPod.
Today, technology makes Ptachick’s life easier, but it might make it more difficult in the future. In recent years, rapid advances in technology have led to a rise in studies about its dangers. Possible consequences range from the annoying (headaches brought on by staring at a computer screen too long) to the downright terrifying (possible brain tumors caused by cell phone use). WTH separates rumor from fact.
Eye strain and headaches
Computer use can lead to computer vision syndrome, which causes blurred vision, eyestrain, eye twitches, headaches, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain, according to the Pennsylvania Optometric Association’s website. Dr. Kenneth Savitski, an optometrist in northeastern Pennsylvania, says he sees this problem in 90 percent of his patients who work a regular eight-hour day on a computer. To save your eyes, Dr. Savitski suggests taking a break from staring at the screen every 20 minutes. Another trick he recommends: Take a few seconds to focus on something across the room or out a window, then look back down at the screen quickly. Repeat a few times. This helps your eyes refocus and relax. A clean computer screen and a privacy filter (which makes content on the screen invisible to anyone not directly in front of it) over your screen helps reduce glare, he says.
Verdict: High risk
Muscle and joint stress
Computer and laptop use can lead to serious effects on the body, according to Dr. Paul Blackledge, a chiropractor in northeastern Pennsylvania. He sees patients daily who suffer from neck, shoulder, back, and wrist pain and headaches caused by long-term computer use. He says sitting at a computer for multiple hours in a row can cause you to hunch, leading to posture problems and headaches. He stresses the importance of a proper workspace: a chair with lumbar support to keep the curve in the lower back, a monitor screen at eye level directly in front of the chair to prevent you from hunching and twisting for a better view, and a cushion in front of the keyboard and mouse to keep your wrists up, preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Verdict: High risk
The jury is still out on whether laptops cause infertility. In 2004, researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook measured the scrotal temperatures of 29 men sitting with a laptop on their laps for one hour and men sitting in the same position without the laptop. While both groups’ scrotal temperatures rose, only the laptop users saw a significant change. The higher temperatures could lead to a drop in sperm production, but not everyone agrees. Dr. Robert Kiltz, founder of the Central New York Fertility Center, believes men who keep laptops on their laps for more than an hour might have an increased risk for sperm abnormalities, but he doesn’t see it as a major concern. “Theories seem to direct our outcomes, so if you worry about it, it’s more likely to be a factor,” he says. He doesn’t think laptops cause female infertility.
Verdict: Slight risk
Brain tumors and cancer
While some people fear that radiation from cell phones causes cancer, no definite proof of this exists. A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in May 2010 had conflicting conclusions: There was no overall connection between cell phone use and brain tumors, except in a small number of subjects categorized as “heavy users.” Walter Hall, a professor of neurosurgery at Upstate Medical University, disagrees. He believes cell phone radiation is not linked with brain tumors. “Somebody will come down with a brain tumor, because brain tumors occurred in humans even when cell phones didn’t exist, and the person will say, ‘The tumor occurred on the side I use my cell phone,’” Hall says. “But it was really just that person’s destiny to get a tumor on that side of his head anyway.” Hall believes worries about cell phone radiation come from early forms of radiation therapy that actually caused cancer. But radiation therapy technology has improved and now poses “an extremely low cancer risk,” even though it delivers much higher doses of radiation than cell phones.
Verdict: No risk