Gadgets and Health

We all love our gadgets, but do our devices love us? The news is full of reports about the links between health and devices. Parents are equipping their children with cell phones at younger ages, and new laws are in place to make driving with cell phones safer. We thought we’d look at the current health and gadgets and develop this assessment.


Cell Phones

A lot of science is being applied to studying gadgets’ effects on our health. Microwave radiation, thermal radiation, electromagnetic fields, repetitive stress, and even psychological harm; the list of potential threats goes on and on. At the same time, there are also a lot of myths in circulation.

Many recent studies show no harmful effects from cell phone use. However, some long-term studies have turned up troubling findings. History is full of examples where health hazards like asbestos, cigarettes, and lead in paint went unrecognized or even intentionally suppressed. And that group of neurosurgeons always won’t hold their phones next to their ears.

In either case, there is enough doubt to warrant some caution. According to one recent report from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, “Studies in humans do not indicate that cell phones are safe, nor do they yet clearly show that they are dangerous. But, growing evidence indicates that we should reduce exposures while research continues on this important question.”


Real or perceived, cell phones represent potential threats for several reasons, including:

Microwave Electromagnetic Radiation

A typical GSM cell phone can generate up to 2 watts of power at microwave frequencies. SAR (Specific Absorption Rates) values indicate how much radiation the body absorbs and is limited by government standards. Even though cell phone radiation is characterized as non-ionizing or too weak to damage genes, concern remains for thermal effects and blood-brain barrier leakage. Younger cell phone users could be more vulnerable to adverse impacts.

A 2007 Israeli study recently linked microwave radiation from frequent cell phone use (22 hours a month) to an increased risk of salivary gland cancer. The report, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, also notes that risk was higher in rural areas where cell phones transmit at higher levels to compensate for weaker signals.

Thumbs Down for Texting to Prevent RSI

One saving grace for young people using cell phones is that they typically spend more texting than talking. The only problem is that thumbs, having evolved for gripping things, are not so well adapted for poking things, and as a result, many cell phone users are suffering from RSI (repetitive stress injury). Recent reports recommend texting with two thumbs at a time.

Cell Phone Elbow

From the same orthopedic specialists that brought you carpal tunnel syndrome, we now have cubital tunnel syndrome. The ulnar nerve runs under the funny bone of your fingers. When this nerve gets stretched by cell phone users holding a phone up to their ears for long periods, it can become weakened. Blood supply to the nerve can also be affected. The result is pain.

Car Accidents

If it’s not one thing like microwave radiation, it could be another thing like being distracted while driving and crashing your car. Many statistics now point to dramatic increases in traffic accidents from talking or texting while driving. Hands-free devices don’t help much.

Minimize Risks

Talk and listen from a distance when possible; use the speakerphone or hands-free devices (Bluetooth is good, wired headsets are best). Avoid “secondhand” radiation; keep your distance from someone talking on their phone. Be aware of the radiation from your cell phone, and don’t use it near a child. Cell phones communicate with the carrier even when you’re not using your phone. Put your phone on the desk when in the office, carry it in your purse, and don’t sleep with it under your pillow. In addition to distance, a shorter duration of exposure can minimize risks. Be brief, limit your calls, and use a landline if possible. Switch ears periodically or use text messages when possible. Other Gadgets, Other Risks? Cell phones are just one type of gadget that might represent a health risk. Some other potential harm could come from these:

MP3 players at high volume levels can damage your ears and cause hearing loss. MP3 players may interfere with pacemakers, and we’ve heard that you can hurt your thumb from too much iPod “scrolling?” Big flat-panel TVs can be dangerous falling objects that can cause serious injuries to children. There is concern that laptops can cause fertility problems in men from the heat they generate on the lap (area). We’ve seen some reports about laser printers emitting ultrafine particles from the toner that can damage your lungs, and there are also ozone emissions from laser printers.

No Cause for Alarm

Are we going to stop using our cell phones – probably not. With caution, especially for kids and cell phones, and a little common sense about using gadgets, we don’t see any reason not to go out and buy that new flat-panel TV, smartphone, camcorder, or laptop. Retrevo is just the place to learn what to buy, when, and where to get the best deal.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.