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U.S. head and neck injuries related to cellphones have been rising since 2007

U.S. head and neck injuries related to cellphones have been rising since 2007
A report issued today by the The Journal of the American Medical Association (via NBC News) reveals that the number of head and neck injuries in the U.S. related to cellphone use has risen steadily over the last 20 years. The report covered 2,501 patients with a neck or head injury that was caused by the use of a cellphone between January 1998 to December 2017; these patients visited one of 100 Emergency Rooms tracked.  Had data from every ER in the states been used for the report, the authors say that over the same time frame, an estimated 76,000 people would have suffered these types of injuries.

Interestingly, the report indicated that cellphone related head and neck injuries were rare until 2007 when they increased sharply. What happened that year to make more Americans vulnerable to such trauma? On June 29th of 2007, Apple launched the OG iPhone kicking off the beginning of the smartphone era. Not that the iPhone was the first smartphone, but with the touchscreen and the emphasis on multimedia content, it did lead to the current phenomenon we now see where the streets of Manhattan are filled with hundreds of people moving forward while looking down at their handsets.

Many people injured were staring at their phone and not aware of their surroundings

33.1% of the injuries reported were to the head, and the facial region (including the eyes and nose) took the brunt of an accident in 32.7% of the cases. 12.5% of the time the neck was involved. A laceration was the most common injury making up 26.3% of the estimated injuries. That was followed by the 24.5% that suffered a contusion/abrasion and the 18.4% that sustained a more serious internal organ injury. And looking at the age distribution of these incidents, 60.3% of cellphone related injuries affected people in the 13 to 29 year old demographic. Interestingly, those under 13 were more likely to be injured as a result of a "direct mechanical injury" (82.1%) from a phone than from a fall related to smartphone use (17.9%). The reverse is more likely for those 50 to 64 (68.2% associated cellphone injury vs. 31.8% direct mechanical injury) and age 65 and up (90.3% associated cellphone injury vs 9.7% direct mechanical injury).

The report concluded that cellphone users need to educate themselves about how to prevent injuries while using their handsets.  Many of the associated cellphone injuries came because a user was walking and texting at the same time. And while some of these injuries were minor and were resolved in a short time, other injuries resulted in long-term medical problems.

The author of the paper was Dr. Boris Paskhover, a reconstructive surgeon. Dr. Paskhover started looking at the data after hearing patients with a broken jaw or a facial laceration explain that they got injured when they looked down at their phone and were not paying attention to their environment. "I don’t think people are aware of how fragile we are as humans," the doctor stated. "We’re resilient, but we’re also fragile. You fall and you can get a pretty bad injury. You walk in the city and you see everyone just looking at their phones. Be aware that you can hurt yourself."

Doctor Paskhover pointed out that the diagnosis following most injuries to the head indicated traumatic brain injuries. He said that those injuries are the scariest. "We have a skull that protects our brain, but it doesn’t mean it’s impervious. Your brain is soft,” he noted. “I see patients who die just from falling. A fall from upright — you fall, you hit your head the wrong way, you get a traumatic brain injury."

Perhaps the easiest way to make sure that you don't end up as one of these statistics is to keep your phone in your pocket while walking. But how many of us have the will power to do that?

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