Gadgets and Health

We all love our gadgets but do our gadgets love us? The news is full of reports about the links between health and gadgets. 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 take a look at the current state of health and gadgets and came up with this assessment.

Cell Phones

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

History is full of examples where health hazards like asbestos, cigarettes, and lead in paint went unrecognized or even intentionally suppressed. Many recent studies show no harmful effects from cell phone use however, some long terms studies have turned up disconcerting findings. And there are always that group of neurosurgeons who 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 a number of 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 is absorbed by the body and is limited by government standards. Despite the fact that 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 effects.

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 time 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 to your fingers. When this nerve gets stretched by cell phone users holding a phone up to their ear for long periods, it can become weakened. Blood supply to the nerve can also be affected. The result is the 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. Apparently, hands-free devices don’t help much.

Minimize Risks

Talk and listen from a distance when possible; use the speaker phone or use hands-free devices (Bluetooth is good, wired headsets are best)
Avoid “second hand,” radiation; keep your distance from someone talking on their phone.
Be aware of the radiation coming from your own cell phone and don’t use it in close proximity to a child.
Cell phones communicate to 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, 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 have caused serious injuries to children.
There is concern that laptops can cause fertility problems in men from the heat t laptops 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
After all, is said and done, are we going to stop using our cell phones – probably not. With a little 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, smart phone, camcorder, or the new laptop. In fact, Retrevo is just the place to learn what to buy, when to buy it, and where to get the best deal.