Brain, Body & Behaviors | How your smartphone is hacking your family’s health
Our smartphones are our connection to the world. But that constant connectivity could be impacting your health in pretty significant ways.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Our smartphones are our connection to the world. They connect us to our family, our job and our friends.
But that constant connectivity could be impacting your health in pretty significant ways.
Do you ever wonder what kind of germs are you carrying around on your phone? We went to the Microbiology Lab at Norton Hospital to find out.
We swabbed four cell phones to check for bacteria. On one of them, Dr. Alan Junkins found the same organism that causes staph infection, a bacteria typically found in the upper respiratory tract.
"If these bugs are there, then other ones could be there," Dr. Junkins said. "And not just bacteria, but also viruses. It could be the flu virus, for example."
On the other two phones we tested, it was more of the same. But there's one thing we didn't find...
"We don't see any signs of fecal contamination, so it could have been worse," Dr. Junkins said.
"Do your business, finish up and wash the hands. The best thing is hot water and soap."
The germs on your phone may make you squeamish, but doctors are more concerned about the effect it's having on your ability to sleep.
"A study that the cell phone company folks did, they found that because of the signal that comes from the phone, it actually interferes with brain waves and decreases our sleep efficiency," said Dr. David Winslow, head of sleep disorders at Norton Healthcare. "Electronic waves that come out of the cell phone interfere with a signal in the brain."
The light produced by your phone causes other problems.
"Blue light decreases melatonin," Dr. Winslow said. "Melatonin is one of those things that helps us go to sleep at the right time."
And say you get woken up by a text or call in the middle of the night. Dr. Winslow says you experience what's called the fight or flight phenomenon.
"Your mind gets stimulated ... you get a little shot of epinephrin," he said. "Just like you were scared by someone coming after you with a knife. That's not healthy."
The bottom line from sleep specialists: get your cell phone out of your bedroom.
"We've discovered the average teenager is spending seven hours a day on their cell phone," said Dr. Steve Johnson, a pediatrician.
Pediatricians say more kids are getting sick because they're not getting enough restful sleep. They blame that on too much time on the phone and not enough time in bed.
"We're probably seeing more kids just picking up more viruses more easily at school, just because of their immune system isn't as good as it could be," Dr. Johnson said.
Studies also associate increased cell phone use with increased depression in teens.
"They tend to isolate themselves, and the cell phone just provides an easy vehicle for spending time alone in their room," Dr. Johnson said.
That contributes to shorter attention spans, and the obvious one: obesity.
"We want kids getting out there and being active," Dr. Johnson said.
But what about even bigger health concerns. Could your cell phone give you cancer?
"I think there is a potential risk. I really do," said Dr. Renato LaRocca, a medical oncologist at Norton Healthcare. "I think the data is not definitive enough to say anything in particular."
It's an area still being studied. A World Health Organization analysis in 2011 categorized cell phone use as a potential, but not proven, carcinogen.
"I believe there's a lot of epidemiological work, particularly in the realm of brain tumors, because they are increasing in incidents worldwide," Dr. LaRocca said. "We're not totally clear why its happening."
For now, Dr. LaRocca just offers this advice.
"I'm a big believer of the Greek philosophy of everything in moderation. So don't over indulge."
It's something to keep in mind as the thing that's keeping us all connected continues to give doctors concern.
The American Cancer Society has an in-depth look at the cancer risk of cell phone use and ways to limit exposure. Click here for that information.
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