8 Ways Cell Phones Can Harm Your Health

Mar 7th, 2011

The recent cell phone study from the National Institute of Health was just the latest to yield results indicating that gadgets can disrupt a bodily process. Scientists discovered that 50 minutes of use could affect brain activity in the area closest to the phone's antenna, increasing brain glucose metabolism. Although the study didn't specifically mention it could be harmful to our health, doctors are concerned about the implications. There have been several other findings through the years that caused cell phone users to mistrust their phones, some concerning radiation and others concerning more overlooked issues. Here are eight to consider:

  1. Insomnia, confusion, headaches, depression: Those late-night phone conversations may be preventing you from getting a good night's sleep. Aside from the additional time you spend chatting away, you could be suffering from insomnia due to the radiation emitted by your phone, or more specifically, 884 MHz wireless signals. Scientists from Michigan's Wayne State University and Sweden's Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University found that it shortens the deep stages of sleep, which are necessary for the rejuvenation of the mind and body. The effects of a lack of sleep are most problematic for children and teens, who could experience ADHD-like symptoms, depression and mood and personality changes as a result.
  2. Lower visual abilities: Common sense dictates that driving while chatting on the cell phone is an activity from which people should abstain. That was confirmed by psychologists at the University of Kansas, who discovered the vision-controlling area of the brain becomes less active during a conversation in which people are visually focusing on something. In other words, you don't see or notice as much as you should. When you speak, you're activating the left frontal cortex, the back and lower portion of the left temporal lobe, and other areas of the brain. It's an activity that requires lots of effort. Sobering fact: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 995 people were killed by drivers distracted by their cell phones in 2009.
  3. Hearing loss: Cue the "Can you hear me know?" guy. Verizon and non-Verizon customers alike may have trouble hearing you if they spend more than an hour on their phones per day. Researchers at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India reported that such cell phone use can result in inner-ear damage and thus high-frequency hearing loss. Specifically, they had difficulty hearing consonants, including "f," "s," "t" and "z." People were more likely to suffer the loss if they exhibited symptoms such as ringing, fullness in the ears and a warm sensation. Although the study was preliminary, doctors advise cell phone users to halt their use if they notice hearing loss.
  4. Increased risk of male infertility: After perusing this list, you may be tempted to purchase a hands-free device. If you're a guy, though, you should think twice. Because most men who use hands-free devices carry them in their pockets, their testicles are exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic waves. Cleveland Clinic researchers provided findings that showed semen exposed to the waves exhibited higher levels of free radicals, and lower sperm viability and motility. Some doctors advise their patients to keep their phones and laptops away from the area due to the risks. Better safe than sorry.
  5. Dermatitis: Apparently, it's possible to be allergic to your cell phone. According to the British Association of Dermatologists, people who are sensitive to nickel, a metal often used in cell phone handsets, could develop dermatitis on their faces. The symptoms include dry, inflamed, red, blistered and cracked skin, and most commonly affect woman, who are more likely to be allergic to nickel. The buttons and perimeter surrounding the screen are most likely to contain nickel, so the cheek and ear are typically the first areas that show signs of the rash.
  6. Germs: Do you wash your hands after touching the toilet seat? Do you cringe when you touch a greasy doorknob? What's your reaction when reach for your cell phone? A professor of microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University found that your phone is a conduit for a multitude of germs, and may be even worse than a toilet seat or doorknob. Microbiologist Chuck Gerba, who undertook the research, stated that it's a breeding ground for bacteria because of the warmth generated by your hand and pocket area. Of course, those who are most susceptible to germs are people with weak immune systems — one study indicated that cell phones may be the source of hospital infections.
  7. Thumb pain and discomfort: Technological advances have corresponded with the increasing use of your digits, creating a truly 21st century ailment called Blackberry thumb. Video games, computers and cell phones in particular are the culprits. In recent years, doctors have reported more instances of stress injuries of the thumb. Patients complain of discomfort, pain and numbness at the base, and some are forced to undergo operations to relieve the problem. Unrelenting use of the thumbs can result in years of chronic pain. Unfortunately for some, reducing the use of their thumbs isn't an option because their livelihood essentially depends on it.
  8. Eblow nerve damage: If it's not your thumb, it's your elbow. People who spend too much time with their arms tightly bent while talking into their cell phones can suffer nerve damage, resulting in cubital tunnel syndrome. So not only do they experience elbow pain and discomfort, but they experience weakness in their hands and thus limited use. "Cell phone elbow" is a new recurring problem that orthopedic specialists are encountering. More severe cases require surgery, but most people can alleviate the problem by simply switching hands when talking on their cell phones for long periods of time.