The increase of screen time during the pandemic may cause permanent damage across the globe. (Courtesy of Bakari Mustafa)
The increase of screen time during the pandemic may cause permanent damage across the globe. (Courtesy of Bakari Mustafa)

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Cellphone dependence, which has recently reached unprecedented highs, can result in a number of physical problems that may cause permanent damage.

Prior to COVID-19 most people in the U.S. routinely relied on their digital devices and required an uninterrupted connection to the internet, according to the World Health Organization.

Further data from the PEW Research Center indicates that 67 percent of smartphone owners have admitted to checking their phone for calls or messages even when their phone didn’t vibrate or ring.

So what will be the physical effects of increased screen time due to the coronavirus-related stay-in-place directives?

“Overuse of electronic devices may adversely affect the median nerve with the carpal tunnel and the transverse carpal ligaments, resulting in numbness, tingling and pain in the hand,” said a report recently published in Muscle & Nerve Magazine, which further indicated that “repeatedly clicking, swiping, scrolling, tapping and pressing may increase muscle pain in the wrist, fingers and reach up to the elbow.”

“To minimize risk keep the wrist as straight as possible when using devices,” advises Peter White, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Text neck, also known as anterior head syndrome, is another growing lifestyle and health condition which will likely increase due to the pandemic. Text neck, a modern-age term coined by U.S. chiropractor Dr. D.L. Fishman, refers to repeated stress injury and pain in the neck resulting from excessive watching or texting on handheld devices over a sustained period of time.

“Optimize breaks and understand the impact of digital distress on the body,” suggests the Digital Wellness Institute.

Apart from neck pain, digital distress can also cause shoulder pain, upper back pain, headaches, digital eye strain and increased illness due to germs.

Eighty percent of infections come from what we touch. One in six phones has fecal matter on it, researchers found in a 2011 conducted by London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Therefore, cellphones are a potentially dangerous source of bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using a solution that contains at least 70 percent alcohol to disinfect phones. In addition, washing your hands at least five times a day has been shown to significantly decrease the frequency of colds, influenza (the “flu”) and other infections.

Meanwhile, digital eye strain can be caused by viewing a screen for over two hours.

The research is clear: Americans spend most of their waking hours interacting with screens. The blue light can cause eyes to burn, itch, blurt, become fatigued and increase occurrence of headaches.

“Eyestrain can be frustrating. But it usually isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce your eye discomfort,” said Dr. Dianna L. Seldomridge, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Researchers say that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. Motor vehicle fatalities are up 14 percent despite COVID-19. NSC suspects the empty roads are an invitation for reckless driving which includes texting and driving.

“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely. If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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